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Cattle fortunes hinge on weather -- economist

As summer hits its midpoint, there have been a lot of questions about the weather, what it will mean to crop production, and ultimately, how it will affect farmers' bottom lines.

That's also true for ranchers. After last year's drought, the industry has faced an upward climb to profitability for producers, and that's likely to continue through to this fall, says a prominent ag economist.

"Are we going to have a continuing decline in cattle numbers, or are we going to turn it around?" says University of Missouri Extension ag economist Ron Plain. "If we have drought like last year, cattle numbers will be forced down because the feed is not there. If we have a good summer, plenty of rain and lots of grass, then the economics kick in. It is profitable to raise cattle, and we will get herd expansion."

So, how's that scenario unfolded so far this summer? At least in Plain's state of Missouri, grass growth has returned to more normal levels, allowing more ranchers to retain breeding stock heading into fall, according to a university report. That's a good sign as of right now, although, Plain warns there's still quite a bit of summer left before the critical autumn time frame for cow/calf operators, especially.

"For the time being, we're still going to go down," Plain says. "The number of bred cows and heifers this year is 2.1% lower than last year, meaning a smaller calf crop this year."

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