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Wanted: more cows, more cowboys, more cowgirls

Gene Johnston 03/16/2011 @ 2:10pm On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

It's easy to say, at any particular time, an industry is at a critical point in determining its future. Sometimes, whether true or not, it's a good way to get a person's attention.

I think it's absolutely true of the beef industry right now. It's critical because we've been in a numbers free fall for several years, especially since the advent of the ethanol era.

We used to have over 40 million beef cows in the U.S.; now it's 32 million, a number that may still be declining. At one time, cattle ate up more of the corn crop than any other user segment. Now, ethanol takes up just about half the crop, and cattle eat less than 15% of it.

We're The Tail Now

The dog still wags its tail, not the other way around. Ethanol is the dog, these days. And the cattle industry, long the king of agriculture, has somehow become the tail. Ethanol gets what it wants, and few of us want to question that because it's all about energy independence.

But it puts a hurt on many livestock folks, and cattle producers take the biggest lump.

It costs nearly twice as much to raise and feed cows as it did just 10 years ago. A lot of good cattle people have given it up, turning their pastures into cornfields. Can't blame them, but I don't like being part of a shrinking industry, especially a good one like beef.

While it's a critical time for the future of beef production and the direction we're going, there is a big positive that can help us through these next few significant years — times are good for those who stuck it out.

Fat cattle and young calves are in record territory, pricewise. People who buy and graze stockers had their best year ever in 2010 — $100 a head profit!

It's best to face a momentous point in your history with the markets working for you. There are more resources at your disposal.

Long-Range Plan

Fortunately, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) leadership has watched the shrinking numbers and put a task force in place to come up with a long-range plan for the industry. A draft of their proposal was unveiled at the National Cattle Industry Convention the first week of February 2011 in Denver, to be debated and voted on. Here are six core strategies:

1. Improve domestic consumer preference for beef.

2. Capitalize on global growth opportunities.

3. Strengthen the image of beef and the industry.

4. Protect and enhance our freedom to operate.

5. Improve industry trust, openness, and relationships.

6. Position the U.S. cowherd for growth.

Why isn't number six at the top of the list? If the U.S. cowherd turns and starts to grow, all those other objectives would have to be working wouldn't they?

That's where I would put emphasis — working to put some cows back where they used to be on those marginal crop ground hills. Places like much of Missouri and southern Iowa, for instance, which has lost 1 million beef cows.

CRP Resurrected

We need a new CRP — Cow Resurrection Program.

There are details to be worked out, but it would work to put some incentive back into owning cows and growing pasture forages. It would especially open the door for some young men and women to make cowboying a career to be desired.

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Youth is gone because the bus did not/does Not Pay 03/22/2011 @ 2:09pm Cattle bus..not much different that most other "consolidated trickle down" usa schemes. Supposedly alot of dough at the top. And it stays there. Perhaps kinda tough to attract youth to the bus because outfits like WalMart pay the help better than the cattle industry does on average. Keep in mind the usa is debt focused, NOT equity focused in the finance sector. Perhaps if a couple usa banking regs were changed to allow local banks equity style jv banking...there could be sensible new money available for younger folks to perhaps start some cow calf or cattle production operations ( also would be plenty of equity dough to start OTHER new widget cos ). In the meantime...the usa cowherd decline will continue. I doubt cowherd numbers will shrink much below 22 to 24 million cows. Exports good ( the offshore currencies buying usa beef are so much stronger than the usd, those buyers live almost on another planet so to speak ). Usa producers perceive prices as good, HUGE export margins for processors. Usa may not end up exporting the whole beef industry...but it could.

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