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Optimism is High at Beef Cattle Short Course

August 6, 2014
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Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course attendees hear optimistic views on industry future.
By: Blair Fannin, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

More than 1,500 beef cattle producers from across Texas and abroad gathered at Texas A&M University in College Station for the 60th Beef Cattle Short Course this week to learn more about cattle production and maximizing profits during times of record prices.

With beef cattle inventory in the U.S. the smallest since the 1950s, strong prices are predicted to continue with slow, gradual herd rebuilding after decades of drought throughout Texas and the nation, according to experts.

"Feeder prices are in good shape for a while," Bill Mies, visiting professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M, told attendees. "We’ve got record high beef prices at the retail level, lower corn prices and projected record yields on the current crop."

But Mies cautioned producers who are enjoying dramatic increases in beef prices. He said retail meat prices have increased accordingly and could have the potential to rival the pricing power of lobster.

"We don’t want to have beef become a special treat item," Mies said.

However, many beef producers are continuing to cash in on high prices as mature ranching operations are paying down debt instead of expanding herds.

Still, Mies said there are challenges over the next 11 years for beef operations. There’s the fear of drought after paying high prices to restock cows, he said. By 2025, he projects cow inventory in the U.S. to be slightly higher, but become limited by regional droughts, urban sprawl and land values for other uses.

"Cow-calf operations will exist on more leased land than in the past," Mies projected. He cited the average age of the current rancher is the high 60s and sees more of a trend where cattle ranchers’ children leave the land for off-the-farm employment. He said those who do choose to be in the cow-calf business as a primary source of income will likely have a small house and multiple leased pastures.

Mies said the current feedlot segment of the business is overbuilt by 25 percent. Consolidation will continue as the beef industry adjusts to fewer beef cattle, he said.

Gary Smith, visiting professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M, provided an overview of the beef industry the past 25 years. From implementation of Beef Quality Assurance programs to centralized cutting and packaging of meat that is shipped directly to grocery retailers, Smith said the beef industry has made big strides in producing high-quality products readily available to consumers.

Smith said one challenge for cattle producers is selecting adaptable females that are fertile during periods of nutrient deficiency, such as drought.

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