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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.

Another featured speaker, R. C. Slocum, Central Texas rancher, encouraged attendees to wake up everyday with a positive attitude and do the best they can.

"If you are good at what you do and work hard, you will always have a job," he said.

He said you need to have a passion for what you do and that little things make a big difference. Slocum said each Thursday his high school coach would make players buff their shoes and replace shoestrings, crossing them in an exact pattern.

"My old high school coach would say, ‘what does that have to do with winning?’ It probably means not much to you, but doing the little things right has everything to do with winning," he said. "At my place, when you buy herbicides, that stuff is expensive. If you go out there and apply too much product, what are you doing? You are wasting money. If you apply too little, you’re not getting a good kill. The little things make a difference.

"I think what you are doing right now is the most important thing you can do – you are continuing to grow and looking for ways to become better."

Brian Bledsoe, weather forecaster for the Southern Livestock Standard, told attendees to enjoy the moisture Texas has been receiving.

"Enjoy this time while we have it," he said. "Last year when I was here speaking to you, I was somewhat on the fence (about when it was going to rain). But this time, things are lining up pretty good."

While some parts of Texas have not had 100-degree days and have received unseasonable rainfall, future weather patterns late next year indicate potential dry conditions returning to parts of the state, he said, particularly deep East Texas. Bledsoe advised producers to use weather forecast models to their advantage in planning stocking rates.

Jason Cleere, conference coordinator and AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, College Station, said short course attendees are enjoying good times in the industry as high cattle prices and rain have improved Texas beef production.

"Attendees have had several opportunities to hear from experts and gain knowledge about different methods and management practices to capture more dollars for their ranch," Cleere said. "These are good times for calf prices and we want to teach cattle producers the value of good management production practices."

This year’s short course was dedicated to Larry Boleman, associate vice chancellor for outreach and strategic initiatives for Texas A&M AgriLife. He also serves as special assistant to Texas A&M interim president Mark Hussey.

During Monday’s prime rib dinner, Cleere praised Boleman’s years of leadership in AgriLife Extension beef education and recognized him for reviving the short course program in the early 1990s, focusing on practical beef production and boosting attendance from 300 to more than1,500 attendees annually.

Boleman servedas beef short course coordinator from 1991 through 2004. He was Extension state and area beef cattle specialist from 1975-2005. In all, Boleman has 50 years of service with the Texas A&M University System.

Earlier in the day, Hussey also addressed short course attendees and commended Boleman for his many years of service as an AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist and the leadership he provided the short course.

Hussey also told attendees, "This week you will hear from the state’s leading authorities in the beef industry as they focus on what you can do to maintain profitability and sustainability in your operations. I’m confident each of you will leave having learned something new."

The short course is coordinated by AgriLife Extension and the department of animal science at Texas A&M. The event showcases the latest research and educational programs offered by AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the department of animal science at Texas A&M. The annual event is one of the largest beef-education workshops in the country, according to organizers.

The short course continues through Wednesday.

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