Sep 18, 2014
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July 2014 Archive for Grazing the Net

RSS By: Greg Henderson and Friends, Beef Today

Our editors spend some time roaming the web looking for stuff cattle people and others in agriculture might find useful or entertaining. 

Another Plant Slams the Gate

Jul 31, 2014

The packers continue to adjust their demand to the supply of fed cattle. Cargill, says it will shut down its Milwaukee plant. That move will leave 600 folks out of work and reduce Cargill's needs by some 600-head per day. Cargill earlier closed its plant in Plainview and National Beef closed it's Brawley plant earlier this year.

For ranchers, these are high times, of course. But the short numbers are not good news for folks whose jobs relied on big numbers of cattle. The turn-around has begun, but the value-added sectors' problems aren't over. We all know why it is happening, of course. Too few cattle to keep the plants (and feedlots and barbecue joints, for that matter) busy and profitable.

An Aborted El Niño? G-Day My Arse!

The Aussies are pleased to announce they’re cutting the odds of an El Nino event this year. Good news for them, of course, but awful for California and the drought-weary Southwestern U.S.
On the other hand, the drought in much of the Southern Plains has abated enough that we felt it prudent to offer tips on avoiding mosquito bites to readers who are seeing their first such pests in the last 3 years.

A Good Story About Steaks

Granting that steaks are playing a downsized role in the explosive cattle market, it's still fun to read such a well-researched article as this Food Business News piece on steakhouses.

Speaking of steaks, according to Food Sentry, beef is way down the list of food safety problems uncovered in international trade. Looks like we'll be having beef again tonight!

Wee Calves Need Water, Too

Nebraska's extension service has some timely advice on making sure your babies can reach the water.

DC Court: COOL is Legal Enough

Jul 30, 2014

Country of origin labeling got a big win yesterday with the DC appeals court saying it found the government had demonstrated a compelling reason for the labels, giving consumers choices "in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak."

It isn't over, of course. There is still the Supreme Court and the World Trade Organization. At any rate, the ruling made R CALF happy and NCBA contemplative. The issue drew the attention of the mainstream press because they see it as a freedom of speech issue.

Restocking? Stocking Up? Go Cows

And who isn't running the numbers these days, what with calf prices looking good into the distant future? Your best bet, says TAMU, is old, open cows.

Ask the economists, and they'll tell you that this mighty fine market is being driven by ground beef. Your high priced, rich-guy, expense-account cuts just haven't seen the demand increase it would take to keep them growing with $1.60 feds.

Reason: The rotten economy. But there is some good news out today. Reuters has a good report.

But the alas part of this economy is that while the steak eaters may be getting richer, the hamburger eaters are just getting poorer. Uh, any you wonder why fowl consumption surpassed beef last year?

No Ceiling in Sight

Beef prices have yet to find a price ceiling this year as new records continued to be broken. We're not complaining, but it makes us wonder just how high prices will go. With prices continuing to rise, we just hope that consumer demand doesn’t go fowl—at least no more than it already has.

The Russians are a Plain Spoken Lot

Not only are they using protectionist trade regulations to block meat imports to benefit domestic producers, you'll note in Nikolai Fyodorov's comments that they are proud to say so.

Pretty Bad to Really Bad Climate Change News

Jul 29, 2014

The White House and the Council of Economic Advisers today released the results of a "study" that says—no, wait, "finds"—that failure to take immediate action to halt global warming will result in 1% damage to annual GDP.

The report, of course, stirred plenty of news coverage. It will, no doubt, figure heavily into the administration's ongoing effort to justify the EPA's broadening reach into carbon emissions.
US News was one of the few news groups that bothered to ask the doubters what they think of the report, but there are a lot of interesting takes out there.

Now, the real bad climate change news: We know a lot of our readers are climate change skeptics, but what if you found out it would give you kidney stones? Well, here is some bad news.

Permits Por Todos!

If the White House press corps is to be believed, it sounds like Obama may "grant work permits" to millions of illegal immigrants. We're not sure what that means. Surely he can't unilaterally "grant work permits," as in green cards. There are laws covering that sort of thing.
But he's got that good lawyer's gift for finding loopholes, so we should watch. At any rate, it seems like a good time for employers to not worry too much about the legality of folks they hire. Nobody seems to be watching. It's all over the news.

What Fine Customers We Are

The U.S. has surpassed Japan as Austrailia's top beef export markets. Apparently, Chipotle's Aussie beef move is catching on. Well, let's hope those importing Aussie beef are doing it for a better reason than Chipotle's "responsibly raised" excuse. We all know how well that went over.

Who Slimed Pink Slime?

Several journalists, including three members of Bill Marler's "Food Safety News" website, have been ordered to cough up correspondence relating to stories that fueled the "pink slime" media frenzy of 2012. They, of course, are fighting the order.

"We dispute that [BPI attorneys] are entitled to the documents under various state shield laws protecting reporters from such intrusion," Marler wrote in an email. We're curious to see how this one plays out.

It's the Sizzle, Silly

Jul 28, 2014

These incredible cattle prices get less credible daily, and Jim Robb and Ron Hays are forced to marvel at how demand seems to stay "robust."

From the supply side, they, of course, take note of the much-reduced supply of cattle—headlined last week by USDA's July inventory report, but that doesn't explain such robust demand. Naked hamburger thieves might explain it, though.

If you want proof of how badly folks want beef, well, consider this report on nude hamburglars. Nobody in the beef business expected demand could be so strong. But we may have found the explanation!

We’ll have fries with that.

Carbs and Cancer

Beef has been blamed for everything from cancer to heart disease and even the distruction of the world's rainforests. There are even a number of lists roaming around the interweb explaining why you should stop eating beef. Of course, we can think of plenty of reasons to keep eating beef, and they all end with "charbroiled."

On a side note, Brazilian ranchers are reinventing their business, and as a result, deforestation has declined to a 25-year low. Eh-hem. 

But look. A study that doesn't blame beef for anything!

Amen and Amen

The Farm Bureau's Bob Stallman has some thoughts on the EPA trying to regulate your windmill’s spillover pond. He wants to set the record straight regarding the "Waters of the U.S.," saying, "If our government says something, you ought to be able to take it to the bank." Stallman goies on to explore the fine print and hash out his beef with EPA's definitions and lack of clarity.

Cow Groups Take Note

Oregon cattlemen have a mighty fine idea for a fundraiser. Sell steaks cooked the way steaks should be cooked and raise money for the cause at the same time.

Just seeing all those juicy steaks over that firepit makes us wish we were in Oregon for the Washington County Fair.

Rainbow-Belching Unicorns

Jul 25, 2014

Earlier we told you about a new report that laid the bulk of the blame for climate change at the hooves of livestock production, with beef cattle the worst offender.

Media outlets gobbled it up as the work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That fact notwithstanding, the study was a prime example of "junk in, junk out." In fact, Jude Capper, a scientist with more than a little expertise regarding beef's carbon footprint, says to accept this new work is akin to believing "Elvis would come back from the dead, and rainbow-belching unicorns would graze the Northern Great Plains."

Known as Bovidiva to her Twitter followers, Capper notes the new research was conducted using antique feed efficiency data from 30 years ago. She finds other errors which "underline their complete ignorance of the U.S. beef industry." Capper's peer-reviewed study from 2010 presents a more complete view of modern beef production's footprint, minus Elvis and the unicorns.

Mapping The Spread Of Drought

Last week's strong summer cold front brought record low temperatures to the Eastern two-thirds of America and triggered rain across the Southern and Central Plains. As a result, the weekly drought monitor showed improvement.

The prolonged drought in the Southern Plains, however, is taking a toll on the Ogallala Aquifer. Over the last decade average underground water levels across the 16-county High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) have dropped 8.83 feet (2.69 meters), with three counties seeing average declines of more than 15 feet, according to data compiled by the HPWD. Over the past decade, droughts in some regions have rivaled the epic dry spells of the 1930s and 1950s.

Currently, about 34% of the contiguous U.S. is in at least a moderate drought.

Drought Affects Us All

California's exceptional drought, which scientists say comes every 50 to 100 years, can be blamed on the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge." That’s the nickname for a high-pressure area that sat for months over the Pacific Ocean and diverted storms to the north of California.

Farmers in the state's Central Valley stand to lose $810 million this year due to the drought, and the state is expected to lose 17,100 agricultural jobs.

America's widespread drought, however, is having a significant effect on rural communities. The Washington Post says drought pushes the poverty rate higher in rural areas, driving residents to urban areas in search of work and a better life.

Animal Welfare: The View From Your Window

Your view on animal welfare depends on what you see when you look out your window, says a cattle producer who also works in academia. Dave Daley, interim dean of the College of Agriculture at Chico State University in California, gave an outline on "How to Lose the Argument on Animal Welfare" at the 4th International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare hosted by Iowa State. Daley is a fifth-generation rancher from a family that operates a 100,000-acre spread in California.

Brazil’s Ranch Revolution

Jul 24, 2014

Amazonian ranchers have been called the villains of the rainforest. They’ve been responsible for cutting wide swaths through the world’s largest rainforest basin to make room for raising cows. Critics claim cattle production in the Amazon is among the worlds most inefficient, requiring about 7.5 acres of pasture per cow. Brazilian ranchers, however, are reinventing their business to tread more lightly on the rainforest – planting improved grasses and rotating livestock to conserve pastures. As a result, deforestation has declined to a 25-year low, while production has increased. In the past decade, forest cutting fell 77% as Brazil’s herd grew from 72 million to 78 million head. Further efficiencies remain to be captured. Brazilian economist Bernardo Strassburg, head of the International Institute for Sustainability, says Amazon ranchers are delivering only about a third of their potential.

Florida Grass-Fed Growing

Canadian-based billionaire Frank Stronach’s vision of raising and slaughtering grass-fed beef in Florida has met with plenty of resistance from environmentalists. Sleepy Creek Lands is a 38,000 acre ranch currently in a legal tussle over a proposal to withdraw water from the aquifer, possibly interfering with the flow and health of nearby Silver Springs.

Sleepy Creek Lands operation includes a beef processing plant that may soon employ 100 people processing Florida grass-fed beef. The ranch’s goal is to have 10,000 cattle grazing the land within five years.

Cattle Markets Rally Higher

Cattle traders have watched this year’s fed cattle trade set new all-time highs on several occasions. Each time there is logic that suggests the market has topped. And each time the cash market of 2014 has proven that to be illogical thinking. This week cattle traded in a range of $160 to $165 per cwt., which is another all-time record and $7 to $9 higher than last week. (That weekly gain must be some kind of record of its own.) Cattle sold on a dressed basis were $7 to $8 per cwt. higher at $254 to $255. Futures prices also posted new all-time highs this week.

Genetic Selection For Healthier Cattle

Could selecting for disease resistance increase your bottom line in the future? Research presented at the Beef Improvement Federation conference suggests potential economic benefits of using genetic selection to reduce the incidence of bovine respiratory disease complex (BRDC) in feedlot cattle.

Slaughter-Free Dairy

Jul 23, 2014

It's too early to call this enterprise a trend, but a new dairy option is a concession of sort by some animal activists that they'll never convince the masses to give up meat and dairy. A Pennsylvania dairy now offers milk at $10 a gallon, which includes a $2.50 "cow retirement fee" and a $1.50 fee for "boy calf care." In other words, Gita Nagari Creamery is a slaughter-free dairy – less than half of their 60-cow herd is milked while the rest are "retired" freeloaders.

Such a business model might sound warm and fuzzy to vegans, but it's far from sustainable. If all U.S. dairies became slaughter-free, about four times as many dairy cows – 27 million – would be needed to produce the same amount of milk.

Queen's Horse Fails Drug Test

Estimate, a five-year-old filly owned by Queen Elizabeth II that won the Ascot Gold Cup race last year, has tested positive for a banned drug. Estimate narrowly missed winning the prestigious Ascot Gold Cup race last month, placing second. Buckingham Palace said Estimate tested positive for the painkiller morphine, and initial reports suggest the positive test is the result of consumption of contaminated feed. If officials determine Estimate tested positive after this year's Gold Cup, the horse could be stripped of her second place finish and the Queen would forfeit the approximate $137,000 in prize money.


Fuel For The GMO Debate

Should food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) be labeled as such? The editorial board of the Des Moines Register thinks so.

At the center of the debate is the fact that consumers want transparency, as Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, recently told Gannett Company, owners of the Des Moines Register. "We're in the midst of an area of food democracy the likes of which we've never seen," he says. "People want to know everything about their food, what's in it, who made it, where it's from, how it's made. The politicians who are trying to deny people the right to know about their food are running headlong into this sort of brick wall of opposition."

Some commodity groups, including the National Corn Growers Association, have stated they support voluntary labeling if it is consistent, informative and "eliminates confusion and advances food safety."

Is There A Place For Cows In The Future?

Like it or not, for beef production to expand, the economics of the beef cow needs to have a threefold increase in net returns to compete with crop production. To leave land in hay production, the net return for hay needs to double. These are very unlikable thoughts, says North Dakota State University beef specialist Kris Ringwall, but certainly thoughts that will drive the next wave of young agriculturists.

Hot Air About Beef

Jul 22, 2014

Yesterday was a red-letter day for meat haters. Two new reports laid a bulk of the blame for climate change at the hooves of livestock production, with beef cattle identified as the worst offender. A study examining the effects of livestock production was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that claims raising cattle in the U.S. requires 28 times as much land and 11 times as much irrigation water, and pumps five times as much planet-warming gases into the atmosphere than producing dairy, poultry, pork or egg products. Most major news organizations carried the story, which invited headlines such as "A Beef With Beef," and "Eating less beef is better for the environment than giving up cars."

A second study claims the methane and nitrous oxide released by livestock account for 28% of global warming activity. NCBA’s Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, director of sustainability and research, was unimpressed by the research. "The PNAS study represents a gross over-simplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain, a point which the authors acknowledge."

Marijuana Meals

Once Colorado legalized marijuana, it was only a matter of time before an enterprising chef launched a business around cooking pot.

Blaine Alexandr-Hein is a private chef who teaches people how to expand their cooking repertoire by including marijuana. He says the goal is to keep the integrity and flavors of the food without overwhelming them with the flavor of pot. Hmmm. We’re guessing the folks cooking with pot aren’t that interested in the integrity and flavor of the food.

Cowboy Cologne

We don’t know any cowboys who routinely apply cologne before heading out to the barn, but a company from Portland, Maine, hopes to change that. Lisa Brodar, who operates Portland General Store, says she has created a cologne that is specially calibrated for cows. Which means she believes the scent of her cow-friendly cologne soothes and relaxes cows. But at $110 a bottle, we don’t expect the new scent to show up on ranches and feedlots anytime soon.

Cattle Feeding Margins Remain Above $280

Cattle feeding margins declined $22 per head last week, but remain more than $280. That’s a tidy profit, especially considering feedyards were losing more than $123 per head at the same time last year. The decline in profit margins was due to higher feeding costs and breakevens that were nearly $2 higher than the previous week, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker.

The Problem With Pig Cheese

Jul 21, 2014

Louisville Chef Edward Lee has been enormously successful with his upscale Louisville restaurant, the 610 Magnolia.

Lee has been recognized as one of America's top chefs, and he authored a popular cookbook, Smoke and Pickles. Like any good entrepreneur, Lee constantly searches for ways to improve his business. And like a lot of entrepreneurs, some of his ideas lack, well ... logic. For instance, Lee is consumed with idea of offering pig cheese on his menu. That's right, cheese made from sow's milk. However, there's a giant obstacle to this idea. Lee has yet to figure out a way to milk a sow. The sows are more than a little uncooperative.

Almond Milk Is A Scam

What do you get when you breakdown an 8-ounce serving of almond milk? "A jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds," says Mother Jones Tom Philpott. In other words, the trendy alternative to cow's milk is a scam. Philpott's analysis of almond milk found an 8-ounce serving contains 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber and 5 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Which means you would need to drink a 48-ounce jug of the stuff to consume as much protein as found in a single ounce of almonds. The price? Let's just say that ounce of almonds delivered in cloudy water costs $3.99. Healthy? It's gotta be healthier, right? Philpott calls almond milk a waste of good food.

Cattle Rally Takes A Breather

After running uphill for three consecutive months, stocker and feeder markets fell lower amid light receipts. By all accounts it was a fantastic run, adding about $35 per cwt. to the price of yearling feeder cattle.

Consumer Demand Pushes Beef

A big factor in the strength of cattle prices this year has been strong consumer demand. Domestic meat demand was up 4.6% in May compared to last year, and on average, domestic demand for red meat and poultry has been up 3% over the last 12 months. Specifically for beef, domestic demand was up 6.7% in May compared to last year. Export demand for beef was also up 7.5%.

The Donkey Whisperer

Jul 18, 2014

You’ve heard about the horse whisperer, and the dog whisperer.

We now have a donkey whisperer, though he doesn't appear to possess the same animal behavior-modification abilities as other animal whisperers.

The donkey whisperer is from Texas, which will come as no surprise once you watch the short video. Posting of the link here is for entertainment value only, and should not be considered an endorsement in case you are looking for someone to whisper to your donkeys.

Sniffing Out Dyer's Woad

While our canine companions over the years seldom earned their keep, canine unemployment is not an option at the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation.

Dogs were originally used to locate carnivore scat. Now, dogs are used to find invasive plants, invertebrates and contaminants such as heavy metals and pharmaceuticals.

One fully-employed dog is Seamus, trained to patrol Mount Sentinel in Colorado. His job is to sniff out dyer's woad, a noxious weed that takes over rangeland, choking out native grasses. When he finds the plant he stops and the GPS in his doggy backpack marks the location of the weed so it can be sprayed later.

Global Warming is Ruining Booze

We now have a big reason to put the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming is ruining booze. Specifically, tequila. Apparently the hotter summers in Mexico are causing the blue agave plants used in tequila production to mature too early and they aren't absorbing the proper nutrients. That makes for weaker and less flavorful tequila.

Beef Exports Maintain Momentum

U.S. pork and beef exports maintained their strong momentum in May, with export volumes for both products exceeding last year's totals and value increasing by double digits, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Beef exports in May were up 5 percent in volume (102,967 mt) and 15 percent in value ($589 million).

Polar Bears Adapt

Jul 17, 2014

Artic sea ice has been retreating for years, which is good news if you’re a seal. That’s because the melting ice makes it harder for polar bears to catch their favorite dinner, which happens to be seal.

Polar bear numbers are estimated at about 25,000 globally, placing them on the endangered list and drawing greater attention. Scientists have theorized that warmer temperatures leave polar bears stuck on land with no access to seals for longer periods each summer, meaning there’s some very hungry polar bears come fall. Except, polar bears apparently don’t give up so easy. They’re finding substitute menu items such as caribou calves and eggs from raiding geese nests. In short, polar bears are adapting to longer ice-free seasons.

Anti-Vaxx Skeptics Rebuffed

Many news sources have reported about the dramatic uptick in measles cases in the U.S., a disease that was eradicated in North America a decade ago. Much of the blame for the measles outbreak rests squarely with vaccine skeptics, people who deny the safety of the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Alas, anti-science stupidity is not confined to North America. A Queensland, Australia, mother-to-be was shocked when she was handed a brochure promoting the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network (AVN) while at the Gold Coast University Hospital. In fact, the AVN was the only source of information on vaccines available in an information package given to expecting mothers. Queensland Health has since responded saying the form has been pulled and the matter is being investigated.

They Won’t "Got Milk?"

The owner of a Kauai island resort in Hawaii is suing to stop the development of a proposed dairy farm on a nearby property.

The lawsuit filed in Circuit Court last week says progress on the dairy operation should cease until developers prove it won't negatively affect the surrounding environment. Hawaii Dairy wants to open a facility nearby on 582 acres that will milk 1,800 cows. Spokeswoman Amy Hennessey says the suit is "deeply disappointing," and calls it a malicious attack on local food by commercial resort interests."

Drones Invade Heyworth, Illinois

Drones could add $82 billion to the U.S. economy by 2025, with the lion’s share of that going to agriculture. That was just one of the messages delivered at Farm Journal’s Drone Fly-In event this week in Heyworth, Ill.

The Berkeley Beheading

Jul 16, 2014

Earlier this week we noted a few urban chicken owners have startlingly realized the eggs produced from those aromatic predator magnets cost about $40 a dozen.

Glaringly omitted from such calculations was the additional benefit of some tasty, free-range, organic and totally primitive meat from those birds. Urban chicken farmers, however, have encountered a major obstacle in transitioning backyard pullets to plate. It’s called slaughter, a process many know little about. To the rescue comes Urban Adamah, a Berkeley, Calif., urban farm that planned a public chicken slaughter in May with the intention of teaching city folks how to properly cut the head off a chicken.

As word of the Berkeley beheading spread so did the outrage. Animal rights activists demanded the chickens be spared and given safe passage to an animal sanctuary. Fearing the Chickengate protest could get out of hand, Urban Adamah wisely cancelled the public event.

The birds were "harvested" in private a few days later, which led the activist group United Poultry Concerns to hold a candlelight vigil outside the farm gates. Seriously.


California's Water Wasters

Officials believe California's drought is the worst in 500 years.

Since mid-winter, California officials have pleaded with residents to conserve water, but a report released yesterday indicates Californians have done exactly the opposite.

The State Water Resources Control Board survey shows overall water consumption is up 1%, while Governor Jerry Brown has asked residents to cut consumption 20%. The water regulators approved a measure to levy fines up to $500 a day for residents who waste water on lawns, landscaping and car washing.

Arizona Rancher Fears Immigrants

An Arizona rancher whose property along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a path used by an estimated tens of thousands of immigrants to sneak into the U.S. says he believes a health epidemic will soon follow. "The fact is that we're going to be inundated with diseases in our population as well as livestock diseases,'' John Ladd, owner of the San Jose Ranch in Bisbee, said Tuesday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

Vesicular Stomatitis in Texas

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) has received confirmation of two new cases of Vesicular Stomatitis (VS) in horses in Bastrop and Travis counties in Central Texas. To date, 10 premises in seven Texas counties have been confirmed with VS. Those counties include Kinney, Hidalgo, San Patricio, Nueces, Jim Wells, Bastrop and Travis counties.

City Slickers Are Sicker

Jul 15, 2014

We’ve long suspected living in the city makes us sick. Now we have scientific evidence to support our theory. Research at Denmark’s Aarhus University has revealed that people who were raised on a livestock farm are only half as likely as their urban counterparts to develop the most common inflammatory bowel diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The researchers believe the human body is dependent on exposure to a wide variety of microorgnisms to develop a healthy immune system, and they say the differences in the "microbial environment between city and country has increased over the past century," exposing children to far fewer bacteria than previously. In other words, there’s logic in letting your kids make mud pies in the barn lot.

Other research says kids on dairy farms run one-tenth of the risk of developing allergies, and pregnant women can benefit from visiting a dairy as the exposure promotes maturation of the fetal and neonatal immune system.

Western Water Worries

Water levels at Lake Mead sank to a record low this week. The surface of America’s largest man-made reservoir rests at about 1,081 feet above sea level, about 130 feet lower than 15 years ago. That’s the beginning of the long-standing drought that has reduced the flow of the Colorado River. California and the Southwest depends on the river and the receding reservoir to sustain 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West.

In California, researchers expect farmers will see wells run dry next year. The study also says farmers will leave 430,000 acres idle this year resulting in a $2.2 billion loss.

Zilmax Study Shows No Detrimental Effects

The cattle feed additive Zilmax has no noticeable detrimental effect on cattle health or well-being, according to research by scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. The study was undertaken after Zilmax's maker, Merck Animal Health, temporarily suspended sales of the additive last year when concerns emerged in some quarters that it might cause lameness in cattle.

Another, larger study by Merck, however, has been delayed. According to the Wall Street Journal, Merck wants to test Zilmax on 250,000 cattle but those plans are delayed as some beef packers are reluctant to try to market the beef produced during the research.

Feeding Margins Remain Above $300

Despite a $17-per-head decline, average feedyard margins remained above $300 last week. Fed cattle prices dipped $2 to $3 per cwt., but lower breakevens on outgoing cattle supported solid profits, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker.

Eggs At $40 A Dozen

Jul 14, 2014

Of all the nonsensical, trendy ideas to eat healthier and save the planet, the backyard chicken movement is a boondoggle. Major U.S. cities outlawed raising livestock inside city limits in the 19th Century. Now, under pressure from foodies, many of those cities have revised ordinances allowing homeowners to keep a small flock in their backyard.

There are no ordinances, however, that require urban chicken coopers to have even the slightest of fowl knowledge. That's why Jason Price posted "Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies" on his The Hungry Dog Blog.

Therein he reveals that chickens in your backyard will, indeed, change the aroma around your patio. He also warns that "at least one of your chickens will die a horrible death," as in predators such as dogs, snakes or coyotes that are fond of chicken snacks. But the biggest reason backyard chickens are for the birds is the cost. Writing for, James McWilliams quotes one California backyard farmer: "Don't tell my wife, but I think my eggs are costing about $40 a dozen."

Mink Liberators Charged In Illinois

Two California animal rights zealots have been charged with a federal crime after they freed 2,000 mink from an Illinois farm. Tyler Land, 25, and Kevin Johnson, 27, are accused of releasing the animals from a farm near Morris, IL, last August, and inscribing the walls of the facility with the words "Liberation is Love." The love they showed the mink, however, resulted in the deaths of many. Some were hit by cars while many others were found in a corn field dead of starvation. The alleged perpetrators are also suspected of making stops in Iowa and Wisconsin to free other caged animals, including other mink farms and a fox farm in Roanoke, IL. Both men will get a chance to tell their story to a federal judge in Chicago.

Distressed Denim

If you've spent any time around teenagers you know jeans with holes in them are fashionable. And they cost about twice as much as jeans without the rips and tears. A Japanese Zoo, however, is adding new meaning to the term "distressed denim." To raise funds to renovate the Kamine Zoo in Hitachi, supporters have developed the Zoo Jeans brand.

They wrap denim fabric around tires and balls and throw the objects into cages with lions, tigers and bears. The animals attack the denim-covered objects, which are later retrieved and the fabric is sewn into fashionably tattered designer jeans. Crazy? Yep. But the Zoo Jeans are selling for more than $1,200 a pair in an online auction.

Feeder Cattle March Higher, Fed Cattle Retreat

The post-holiday blues hit both fed cattle prices and the futures markets last week. That didn't seem to slow the feeder cattle markets much. Compared with pre-holiday prices, stocker and feeder cattle were called steady to $5 higher, and $8 to $10 higher on heavy yearlings weighing 800 to 900 pounds.

Meatless With Marilyn Monroe

Jul 11, 2014

We tend to avoid poking fun at politicians on this blog as they represent such easy targets. Some elected officials, however, just demand our attention. Such is the case with California's Tony Cárdenas from the 29th District. With this year's historic drought gripping his home state and displacing thousands of workers, Cárdenas was busy last month pushing for action by introducing legislation to .... name the U.S. Postal Service facility in Van Nuys after actress Marilyn Monroe, who attended nearby Van Nuys High School in the 1940s. But it was Cárdenas' other agenda item that caught our attention. He sent a letter to the congressional Animal Protection Caucus asking them to join him in observing Meatless Mondays to help the environment and "improve our health and wellbeing." This same issue surfaced in Washington in 2012 and was promptly tamped down by Iowa's Rep. Steve King and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who vowed to double-up on their meat consumption on Mondays.

WOTUS Proposal Called "Flawed"

After listening to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's July 10 presentation to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and governmental affairs for the Kansas Livestock Association, remains deeply concerned about the proposed waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS). Popelka says McCarthy misrepresented the content of the proposed rule defining waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act, and claims "that EPA has no intention of working with agricultural stakeholders to reform this deeply flawed proposal."

El Niño May Disappoint

California and the Southwest remain mired in devastating drought, with the hottest and driest season just ahead. Many hopes in the region for ending the current drought hinge on the return of El Niño. Climate scientists, however, are backing off earlier forecasts that an El Niño in coming months might end the drought.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center issued its monthly report on Pacific Ocean weather patterns Thursday, still projecting that sea surface temperatures will warm, a phenomena known as El Niño that can affect worldwide rainfall. But the El Niño that’s in the forecast will likely be only "weak to moderate," the report says.

Partners Plan Chinese Milk Venture

Abbott Laboratories is planning its first foray into China's dairy market through a $300 million joint venture with Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the world's largest milk processor. The joint venture, which must be approved by Chinese regulators, will run as many as five dairy farms. The operation will involve more than 16,000 milking cattle, with the first farm opening in 2017. The effort is eventually expected to produce up to 160 million liters of milk a year. Fonterra, a farmer-owned New Zealand co-operative, already runs two dairy hubs in China's Shanxi and Hebei Provinces. Abbott, the largest maker of adult nutritional beverages in the world and a leader in infant formula, has allocated more than $400 million to its Chinese operations so far this year.

Did You Slop The Flies?

Jul 10, 2014

We are just as guilty of exaggerating our childhood as our parents were. We don't use the tired example, "walking uphill in the snow both ways to school." But we often remind our offspring just how easy they have it during haying season. "Big round bales? Pffftttt! We had to buck little square bales and all of them had to go in the peak of the barn." Yet, even that example seems pretty tame compared to working on the world's largest commercial fly farm. The Cape Town, South Africa, enterprise will harvest maggots from about 8.5 billion flies housed in giant cages.

This is no tall tale. A 91,000 square-foot facility is being constructed for AgriProtein, and aims to produce 23.5 metric tons of insect-based protein meal and oils and 50 tons of fertilizer a day. The feed is an alternative to soy and fishmeal. So what do you feed flies? Slop. As in out-of-date food or waste from restaurants. We can hear it now. "Son, I had to slop the flies every day before school."

"Natural" Means Nothing

According to the market research firm Nielson, the food industry sells almost $41 billion worth of food each year labeled with the word "natural." Doug Powell, professor of food safety and publisher of, says "natural" labels on food mean nothing. "It's probably the most egregious example [of meaningless labels] on supermarket shelves today," he says.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't even have an official definition or delineation of what "natural" actually means. "Natural," "organic" and many other labels are helping confuse consumers by "tricking them into believing certain food products are healthier than they actually are."

Are WOTUS Concerns "Ludicrous?"

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy is on a Midwest farm tour this week trying to tamp down concerns over proposed changes to the definition of "waters of the United States (WOTUS)."

Farmers and ranchers are notably nervous because they fear removing the word "navigable" from the Clean Water Act would greatly expand the EPA's reach. Texas farmer John Barrett says that would put "every ditch that connects to a navigable water of the United States subject to EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regulation."

McCarthy calls those fears "ludicrous," and she's trying to clear up some false assumptions. "The bottom line is with this proposal, if you weren't supposed to get a permit before, you don't need to get one now."

Donkey Power

In a strange mix of old-world and new-age production agriculture, we've learned that herdsmen in Turkey are attaching solar panels to donkeys to power their laptops and cell phones. The BBC reports that the solar power helps keep these sheep and goat herders connected to the Internet at all times. As Modern Farmer says, "these farmers will be able to check their email, obsess over Twitter and complain about HBO Go's buffering issues, just like the rest of us."

Sir Richard Is So Wrong

Jul 09, 2014

Sir Richard Branson is entitled to his own opinion, just not his own facts. Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, says he's given up eating beef and wants you to do the same.

Why? For your health and to save the planet, of course. He believes you should do so to reduce your carbon footprint. Seriously? That advice from a guy who owns an island in the Caribbean? That carbon footprint lifestyle must be off the charts. But wait, Branson cites some of his "facts" to support his proposition. Like, "it's estimated that 14.5% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock – which is more than the contribution from all forms of transport." Sorry, Richard, that claim (from the UN report Livestock's Long Shadow) was thoroughly debunked 7 years ago.

In fact, Dr. Frank Mitloehner's work on air quality at the University of California-Davis concluded we shouldn't blame cows for climate change.

Wanna tell Sir Richard he’s full of hot air? Go to Twitter and let him know @richardbranson. Or you can retweet from us @BeefToday.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

There's a whole bunch of misinformation about beef and agriculture out there. Unfortunately, the digital age has made it way too easy for charlatans with a keyboard to spew garbage that is dangerous to your business and the health of Americans. We've noted recently the anti-vaccine movement has created some serious health concerns, prompting professionals such as Dr. Aaron E. Carroll to provide some common sense to parents who need to be told "Why You Must Vaccinate Your Kids."

Fortunately, agriculture has a few common sense scientists, too. Want to know the truth about beef sustainability or its environmental impact? Check out Dr. Jude Capper’s presentation, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics."

Here's a tidbit of what you'll find there: "If everybody in the USA went meatless every Monday for an entire year…the national carbon footprint would decrease by less than 1/3 of 1 percent." You can follow Capper on Twitter @Bovidiva.

Too Much Bull

As with any sport, American rodeo has become big business. Still, we were surprised to discover breeding bucking bulls has become a high-tech, multimillion-dollar industry. American Bucking Bull, Inc. (ABBI), the largest organization tracking lineage, keeps a DNA database of more than 160,000 animals. In short, today's rodeo bulls are bigger and badder than they've ever been. And rodeo cowboys are starting to learn the sport at an early age. Too early, according to some. Andrea Appleton writes on that the rodeo industry is "obsessed with breeding bigger, nastier bulls" which is "putting children in harm's way." Her story tells of one champion rider who is fighting to change that.

Cattle Feeding Margins Top $300 Per Head

Cattle feeders saw another significant bump in profit margins last week. The unseasonal rally in fed cattle prices saw the market gain $4 to $5 per cwt. last week, which pushed average cattle feeding profits to $319 per head, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker. Farrow to finish pork margins increased slightly to $103 per head. Both beef and pork profit margins are calculated by John Nalivka, president, Sterling Marketing, Vale, Ore.

The Vegetarian Butcher

Jul 08, 2014

This story surfaced after the July 4th holiday for reasons that will become obvious. Michael Abramson calls himself a vegetarian butcher because his food shop in Toronto offers only meatless items. The shop, YamChops, offers such tantalizing selections as "No Pork Pulled Pork" and "No Crab Crab Cakes." So just what is this stuff? Abramson's "No Pork Pulled Pork" is made with cabbage (yum), the "Tuna-less Tuna" is made with chickpeas, and his "Korean BBQ Chick'n" is made with soy. We might tolerate Abramson's meat-in-name-only foods without ridicule except he commits a most unpardonable sin by offering a bacon-less bacon product. His "Coconut Bacon" is marinated coconut flakes that are hickory smoked and baked until crunchy. We're pretty sure there wasn't any "Coconut Bacon" served at a Texas barbeque over the holiday weekend.

Drought-Relief Food Boxes

Recent rains have improved drought conditions over much of the Southwest and even parts of California.

Unfortunately, California's extreme drought has already dealt the Golden State a massive economic blow. Further, the state is furnishing so-called drought-relief food boxes to individuals and families in need. Most of the requests for the food boxes come from the ag industry where pickers and packing house workers have either been laid off or had their hour reduced due to the drought. Many farmers have pulled their crops and cut down fruit trees because they lack sufficient water to irrigate them. FoodLink for Tulare County and other organizations delivered 17,000 food boxes in June.

Beef Carcass Bruises Quantified

Profitability and animal welfare can be improved with greater animal care that minimizes bruising, according to a report from the Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University. Beef carcass bruising causes a loss in revenue to the producer due to trim loss and can be an indication of substandard cattle management or handling. A recent study of 18,031 carcasses evaluated at commercial slaughter facilities found bruises on 37% of the carcasses, with 20% of those described as severe. The report's authors suggest further research into loading, transportation and unloading of cattle to determine corrective actions.

Have Grass, Will Profit

Record high cattle and beef prices are actually making rebuilding herds a good bet, at least for some beef cattle producers, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. "'Out of sight' is a good term for the prices," said Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension specialist in livestock and food products marketing. "And it doesn't really matter whether we're talking about retail prices to consumers, the wholesale beef market or at sale barns for calves and feeder steers."

Ahead of the Parade

Jul 07, 2014

Funny, reverent, jovial, intelligent, entrepreneur, cattle feeder, cattle breeder, community and industry leader. That's Dave Nichols, Bridgewater, Iowa. Later this month Nichols will receive the Livestock Publications Council Headliner Award during the Agricultural Media Summit in Indianapolis. The award recognizes someone from outside of livestock publishing for actions that produced a positive change in livestock production and marketing. Nichols certainly qualifies as he and his family built Nichols Farms into one of America's leading beef genetics suppliers, with breeding and marketing programs that have become a model for the industry. Iowa Public Television recently profiled Nichols on its Market to Market segment.

Economic Espionage

Three years ago the FBI uncovered an elaborate plan to steal American trade secrets. Prosecutors claim that for six years Chinese nationals "hopscotched across rural Iowa and Illinois, stealing valuable inbred corn seed from Pioneer, Monsanto and LG Seeds." According to a report on CNN Money, the "group rented storage facilities, bought their own testing field and concocted elaborate cover stories." Last week a seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged with stealing trade secrets for her husband's seed company, the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company. The FBI's case helps underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property.

Trader Joe's Not So COOL

Trader Joe's, the trendy grocery store that features private label specialty foods, organics and other hard-to-find products, is in hot water over COOL.

Last week, Joel T. Joseph, chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, filed suit against Trader Joe's for allegedly selling meat and produce to consumers with country of origin labels that are "outright misleading and confusing."

That's a powerful claim considering the whole COOL saga has been notably confusing. Adding to the confusion, the lawsuit seeks a meager $25,000 in damages.

Flooding Presents New Challenges

Many Iowa cattlemen are shifting from drought strategies to coping with extremely wet and flooding conditions. Water-logged facilities, flooded pastures, earthen basins that are full and financial issues are immediate concerns. The Iowa Beef Center and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are addressing producers concerns in multiple ways, including online resources.

Anti-Science Insanity

Jul 03, 2014

Denying science has consequences. Despite wagon loads of evidence that organic foods are not safer or more nutritious than conventional foods, and similar evidence that GMO-produced crops have increased production without a hint of danger to humans, the anti-food technology protests continue. A new wrinkle in this conflict may have been conceived by an Australian judge who created a legal environment that will spur new lawsuits between organic farmers and their neighbors using biotech seeds.

Science deniers, however, are doing more than just opposing methods to increase food production. They're also endangering current and future generations to diseases that were thought to have been thrown out with the VHS player.

Measles, for instance, was declared eliminated in the Americas in 2002. But as of May 23, more than 288 cases have been reported this year. That's because a growing movement of anti-vaxxers have been vaccinated with the nonsense that it's wrong to protect children against dangerous diseases.

Cattle Markets Continue Skyward

The fireworks started early in the cattle markets. Cash fed cattle prices are $4 higher this week. That is not a misprint.

Cattle traded in the Panhandle at $158 per cwt. In July! In Nebraska cattle sold on a dressed basis mostly $5 higher at $250. Some feedyards are holding out for $160 per cwt. Boxed beef cutout prices remain solid, with Wednesday’s Choice closing at $247 per cwt, and Select at $240. There is growing evidence the economy is stronger than previously thought, which may explain the robust consumer demand for increasingly expensive beef. But, did we mention this is July?

Texans Approve Beef Checkoff

Texas cattlemen voted overwhelmingly to establish a state-level Beef Checkoff program.

The Texas Department of Agriculture announced that nearly 67% of producers approved the measure, and Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association president Pete Bonds said the program "will provide a tremendous step forward for beef producers and consumers."

The funds will be managed in accordance with Texas law by a council of 20 cattle producers appointed by the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture.

The department conducted the referendum at the request of cattle industry groups and under the authority of the Legislature.

Hurricane Proof Milking Parlor

Tropical storms and hurricanes are facts of life in Florida, which is why Larson Dairy Inc., near Okeechobee, went to great lengths to add protection for employees and animals when they remodeled their facilities. In the center of the office area, for instance, Larson constructed a safe room that will double as a break room for employees. The room is completely surrounded by concrete walls, including the ceiling. Impact resistance windows were installed in the surrounding rooms that will break if enough force is applied, but they won’t shatter.

Chipotle Speaks

Jul 02, 2014

Well, we finally got to hear from Chipotle yesterday, and it was kind of what you’d expect from their burritos: lots of flair but lacking in meat. AgriTalk’s Mike Adams visited with Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, on the company’s purchases of Australian beef and advertising campaigns that have belittled modern agriculture. Out of the conversation we learned that Chipotle has trademarked the phrase "responsibly raised beef," so they’re allowed to have any definition for their product they want. Additionally, only 23% of a beef carcass is used by Chipolte, meaning producers have to find a way to get value out of that remaining 77%. That doesn’t sound very responsible to us.

Chipotle Tweets

While the conversation on AgriTalk may have stopped yesterday, it is still brewing on Twitter. After it was announced that Texas’ Ag Commissioner would be on the show last week NCBA’s Daren Williams aka @REAL_BEEFMAN told Chris Arnold aka @ChipotleMedia to listen to the program. Luckily that engagement led to Arnold coming on AgriTalk a few days later, but it also led to some interesting back and forth between those two and Dr. Jude Capper aka ‏@Bovidiva. One of our favorite moments happens when @Bovidiva probes @ChipotleMedia about their new policy, "So Chipotle offering to engage in dialogue with Texas beef doesn't actually mean anything will change." (More #ChipotleLies)

Dr. Capper shares more of her opinion on Chipotle’s Aussie beef move in a recent blog post. You can get the message a little clearer from the blog than 140 characters on Twitter will allow.


The world’s largest restaurant chain needs to do a little work in the kitchen; that’s what a survey of more than 32,000 consumers indicates anyway. Consumer Reports’ fast food survey ranked McDonald’s below 20 other burger chains. At the top of the burger list were restaurants that have been associated with quality over quantity, like In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys and Smashburger. "More and more, food quality—not just low price—is emerging as a deciding factor for many Americans," says Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports. The message for McDonald’s from consumers looks more like "I’m hatin’ it."

No Dog Days Here

The dog days of summer are nowhere to be found with profits continuing to increase for both cattle and hog producers.

Cash prices for fed cattle are nearly $35 per cwt. higher than last year, and negotiated hog prices are approximately $25 per cwt. higher than last year.

China: Buying America

Jul 01, 2014

The world's largest population has mouths to feed, that's no secret and U.S. agriculture trade with China is a big business, $26 billion to be precise. However, feeding China's cattle with American alfalfa is something we didn't know a lot about. On a ranch three hours east of Salt Lake City green alfalfa fields can be seen for miles. Those 22,000-acres are owned by a pair of Chinese entrepreneurs who purchased the land 3 years ago for $10 million. Now, approximately "22,000 tons of super-compacted" alfalfa is sent to China and fed to the country's growing dairy herd. This is a continuing trend that has seen China invest more in foreign agriculture. But guess who is still #1? USA! USA! USA!

The Food Chain

Cattle prices have been great the past few months at the producer level, but when it comes to beef prices for consumers it's a different story. In-N-Out Burger has raised menu prices between 10 to 15 cents for their Double-Double. Even Chipotle Mexican Grill who has resorted to importing Australian beef to hopefully increase profit margins is also raising prices. The burrito giant now sells a steak burrito for $7.40, that's approximately a 5% increase.

U.S. consumers are feeling the pinch on their wallets everywhere with prices up 0.4% in May. Besides beef, prices have also jumped up for fruit, coffee, clothing, prescription drugs, cars, gasoline and airline tickets.

Prince of Enemas

The future King of England hates genetically modified crops. During former Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration, Prince Charles tried to have GM crops outlawed.

AgWeb blogger Chris Bennett points out that the heir to the throne would love to see a world that uses old-school farming and breeding methods. Back in 2008, Prince Charles accused agriculture corporations of conducting a gigantic experiment with nature and humanity that had gone wrong. He's even said GM crops are responsible for Indian farmer suicides. "But then again, this is the same Charles that recommended coffee enemas as a cancer remedy," Bennett writes.

Unprecedented Prices

The fed cattle and beef markets are seeing unprecedented prices, especially for this time in the year.

Andrew P. Griffith, an assistant professor in ag economics at the University of Tennessee, shares in his weekly "Market Highlights" report that fed cattle traded $4 higher on a live basis and that boxed beef was up $5.26 from the previous Friday. "Beef prices generally struggle during the heat of the summer, but there is obviously enough support to push prices to all-time highs," Griffith says.

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