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February 2013 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. 

Or Said Another Way: It's Not the Beef

Feb 28, 2013

Or said another way: It's not the beef
The New York Times very-concerned friend, Ken Bittman, this morning reports that  it's the sugar making us fat.

No kiddin'.

Too bad Carol Tucker Foreman hadn't seen that before she and USDA gave us the ominiscent Dietary Guidelines that blamed it on red meat consumption.

Horsemeat in U.S. beef? No, no, no and no.
If you’re worried about finding dead horse in your hamburger, spend another New York Times chit on the story about "common" questions asked by U.S. consumers who share your concern.

We’re not sure how common the questions really are, but the answers seem to be no, no, no and no. So you might save your chit for later.

RAM’s farmer ad makes the TED cut
All us farmer types were pretty impressed with the Ram truck/Paul Harvey super bowl ad during the super bowl.

It seems that it wasn’t just us. Note that it also made the decidedly un-ag TED list of top 10 ads that deserve to go viral. The other nine are fun to watch, as well.

Finding a really, really good steak
Not long ago, when your reporter was in charge of assignments, he was assigned to do a series on great steakhouses and what they do to guarantee every steak will be worth the outlandish prices they charge. So, I, and my expense account, tried several of the places suggested in this Travel and Leisure article.

The T&L reviewer puts more emphasis on sauces, ambience and sides than do I—a really good steak leaves no room for side orders and sauces are for French people—but I’d agree with her on those I visited. They all make a good steak. The secrets to a great steak, I decided after all those visits, are aging (there is nothing better than dry-aged, prime beef) and really hot cooking temperatures. However, I have to say that in all my days of eating steak, I never found a place to equal Peter Lugar’s, and steak there also involves a quite princely sum of butter.

Self-grading Obama’s efforts on trade
We’re not sure the Obama Administration has been all that attentive to or effective on the trade front, but his outgoing trade czar thinks they’re tried hard.

Good quote:  "Critics accuse the Obama administration of allowing talks to stall, but Kirk rejected that saying, ‘We have worked ridiculously hard to advance this. These are very complex, detailed negotiations that cover all aspects of business to agriculture and trade, manufactured goods.’"

Somestuff you probably don’t need to read

--Steve Cornett



Obama Lets His People Go

Feb 27, 2013

Obama lets his people go
While we’re being glum, let’s consider this New York Times account of the Administration’s decisionto release detained illegal immigrants.

First, we wonder if we could get a few of those guys hired to grub mesquite.

But, note, also, the part in there about the Jamaican who’s been in a detention center for 3 years. No, I said, "3 years." While he fights deportation. How much does that cost? How come a guy convicted of child abuse is allowed to stay here after the first conviction?

It’s no secret our immigration policies need work. To that end, President Obama says he will meet with Republican leaders hoping to craft new, bipartisan, legislation.

Good luck with that, guys.
Meanwhile, alarge coalition of groups representing agriculture, are begging for some sort of workable guest workable program. To quote from Mr. Brown’s comments:

We are focused on five major themes: border security; a very simple improvement to the E-verify system as an alternative to a national identity card; clarity in anti-discrimination laws; an occupational visa category that our industry can use that could be tied to local or regional employment; and, options to effectively address the 11 million undocumented workers in the shadows of our economy.

To date much of the discussion has focused on the need to retain highly skilled workers such as scientists and engineers, and the need for additional temporary agricultural workers. These are important objectives, but they do not meet the needs of our industry sector. Our workers are neither highly skilled nor temporary. We are manufacturers, wanting a stable and permanent workforce that can help sustain the rural communities where we do business.

Amen and amen. Just to drive home the point a little, look at this BBC video on the use of robotic cow milking machines. These dairy farmers are pointing out that nobody wants to milk cows and so they’re being forced to spend the big bucks to invest in machinery.

We don’t need to get off into public policy too much here, but if this country is going to enjoy a safety net that makes work unnecessary for survival, nobody is going to do the nasty work.

We’re not judging it right or wrong. Just factual.

There are millions of non-citizens who don’t have such safety nets. They are glad to have that nasty work to do. They are willing to risk their lives to do get the jobs you and our children don’t want.

Let them in.

A drought-buster? You had to ask?
It was a doozy of a storm in my part of Texas, but the AP correctly points out that it was no cure for the drought afflicting wheat country.

And, adds Mr. Life-ain’t-no-bed-of-roses-in-these-parts, that’s without them seeing how little snow stayed on the wheat fields. Amarillo recorded hurricane-force wind gusts during the storm, after all. Even in the relatively small area hit with the biggest totals, the snow just sort of howdied the wheat as it headed for the fence rows. We graze the wheat in these parts and this year it is more accurate to say we "grazed" the wheat." There’s nothing sticking up to stop a snow flake.

Having just driven much of Texas, let your reporter report that there is not much on any wheat—or spring crop, for that matter—field to slow the snow between Amarillo and Austin.

So, it is safe to suggest that it is going to take more than a bit of snow to fix things. Thegovernment’s assessment of soil moisture isn’t pretty. And if you scroll over to the "anomaly" section, it still looks like somebody painted most of the country’s winter wheat counties red and tan.

Mr. Pessimistic continues: On top of that the NOAA’s outlook isn’t something to make you think you’d want to go spend a lot topdressing dryland wheat.

Woe is us, I guess.

Country folk: Hoist on our own pitchforks
We read the Daily Beast so you don’t have to, and we learn that Daniel Gross finds "poetic justice" in the impact that the budget sequestration would have on red states.

Should it be "red meat" states?

This poll indicates our politics influence our eating preferences.

"Democrats view vegetarians favorably, 63-16 percent, while Republicans say the same only 38-30 percent. The divide was even starker for vegans: 48 percent of Democrats view vegans favorably while 22 percent do not; 31 percent of Republicans back vegans while another 41 percent view the animal product-abstainers unfavorably"

A note of caution, however. In this poll, Burger King outscores McDonald’s, but in the real world, McDonald’s enjoys a 50% market share and Burger King lags behind even Wendy’s.

What we need is regulation resistance
These congressfolk would like for us to file more reportsso they can get some more statistics and damn statistics to fight antibiotic use in agriculture.

But they’re growing ethanol corn aren’t they? These guys say high crop prices hurt the environment...

The good news: It’s not just you and me. Everybody’s in debt.
Beef’s biggest demand challenge is this stubborn economy and the fact that too many Americans have too few bucks to spend on good food. But it seems it’s not because we’re all caught up in setting money aside.

Please give us more animal ID
Here’s a twist for you. In the UK, it’s the auctioneers who are pushing for a database to protect against cattle larceny.

Send them a ranger
The Missourians are still trying to catch their very successful cattle thieves. We Texans should loan them our TSCRA special rustler rangers.

It all tastes fishy to us
I’m afraid that the sushi you buy may be mislabeled. Will the fraud never cease?

Moi wants to know where the horse came from
France—where they eat horse because they like it—is asking for new rules on meat origin.

California’s tax dollars at work
A group led by a philosophy major (so, Dad, what’s he going to do with that $200,000 degree?) is pushing for a vegan dining hall at another California college. Turns out the other one isn’t working too well. Too little demand. I’ll be darned.

Headlines we didn’t open, but feel free:

  • Who are you most excited to see compete on "Dancing With the Stars"?
  • Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen Split
  • Eva Longoria on Snack Attacks

--Steve Cornett

Why We Don’t (Intentionally) Eat Horses

Feb 26, 2013

Why we don’t (intentionally) eat horses
You can get a few free New York Times stories each month, and I advise you use one of your chits on this delightful read about Britain’s horsemeat scandal from Alan Cowell.

Mr. Cowell seems a bit bemused at the degree of umbrage taken in that country about news that some ground beef contains horsemeat, compared to the blithe attitude elsewhere in Europe. (Many of them do, after all, like to eat horsemeat. So for them it’s just a matter of mislabeling).

Most importantly, to my point of view, he furnishes a fine, fine example of the British humor—"A burger walks into a bar and asks for a drink. "I can’t hear you," says the barkeep. "Sorry," replies the burger. "I’m a little bit horse."

He also explores a bit of the history of horse-eating and, educates me, at least, on why so many humans choose to abhor such a readily-available and inexpensive protein.

Which is not to say I particularly care to eat horses. Or bugs. But, then, I’m pretty well-fed. Lots of people eat horses and bugs and chickens and other sorts of stuff you and I would regard as too nasty.

I have on hand numerous containers of sausage made from feral hogs. I trapped the hogs last summer and hauled them, live, to the butcher. This sausage is USDA inspected, and I describe it as "all natural" and "free range" and "organic" and give it away to guests and others.

What I’ve found is that lots of town friends—even the ones who love to shop at Whole Foods and pay extra for all-natural pork--just don’t like it.  Their taste buds can’t get past that "feral" word. Country folks and hunter folks like it a lot. I’ve had to ration some of them.

So I share Mr. Cowell’s bemusement. I suppose there’s no accounting for taste. But somebody probably already said that.

The upside of closing meat plants?
Maybe FSIS can solve the packers’ oversupply problem for them. Just furlough the inspectors and shut down all the plants one day a week.

Presto: 20% less capacity.

Just joking, of course. But certainly it would be better than closing the plants for two weeks, the way Secretary Vilsack was talking about. One hopes the Administration knows that fed cattle are a perishable commodity and backing them up for two weeks would not only ruin the poor folks owning the cattle, but reduce beef demand and create a backlog that would wreck the whole market.

Note to Administration officials: That would mean cattle producers would pay less taxes.

Oh, Lucky Tyson!
Tyson’s outlook is just keen, despite what’s happening to beef demand.

The quote in this article that makes you grrrrr: "Demand is strong, and we're seeing signs of consumers trading from beef to chicken. Also despite increasing prices, chicken is a good value for consumers, and food service continues to promote chicken heavily, " said James Lochner, COO.
So what’s good for beef’s salesmen isn’t necessarily good for beef. I believe we talked earlier about the problem of relying on horizontally-integrated packers to sell our product.

A letter we like
These hog producers don’t buy the HSUS-as-friend-to-agriculture line.

The winner: Anaplasmosis
Canadian animal health authorities have given up on their efforts to eradicate anaplasmosis, citing the prevalence in the U.S.

Rain forest ranchers
An anthropologist takes a look at the pioneers who are cutting down the Brazilian rain forest to grow cattle.

Contented cows
ARS finds that cattle with attitudes are more inclined to sickness.

The Sierra Club has apparently decided PETA’s tactics are cool.

Stories we didn’t actually read:

Dennis Rodman heads to North Korea

'The Bachelor' Sean picks final two women, third is furious as she is sent home

--Steve Cornett

Weather Market, Texas water War and More

Feb 25, 2013

Weather market!
There are a lot of feedyard cattle under the blizzard blowing across the South Plains this morning, and it is a serious storm—12 inches before sunup in Amarillo, and still blowing and falling. As Bloomberg (and the futures traders) note it will be enough to impact the market.

It’s been a while since we had a weather market, and they are at best a mixed blessing, especially for those directly under the weather. It’s not just the day or two of snow and blow, it’s the mud that follows. (And, in this case, at least one packing plant has had to close because their folks couldn’t get to work.) On the other hand, the yards have been getting a little behind in their marketing, and a few days of no-gain might help that situation.

Texas water war
This piece is about rice and it’s about one river, but it is emblematic of a problem affecting lots of the country.

It takes lots of feed to grow cattle and it takes lots of water to grow feed. This (current?) drought has focused a lot of attention on water use, and much of that attention has focused on agriculture.

Beef has lots of challenges—and challengers. We’ve paid too little attention to this one.

The nightmare of offering tasty food
The New York Times may keep its editorial and news departments separate, but the news side seems to find a suspicious numbers of the editors’ causes to be newsworthy.

They spent a lot of space this weekend on the nation’s (or their) "obsession" with fast food. One long, well-written and researched Sunday magazine article provided an in depth look at the marketing behind successful fast foods.  I find little fault with those who find so much fault with marketers. I might argue that those who design and sell foods do less damage than those who design and sell political candidates, but who among us will argue that we shouldn’t all eat healthier?

Of course, with mamas and grandmamas working, that isn’t going to happen. So. I guess what we should do is expect food marketers to find ways to sell stuff that people don’t want.  To that end, I took a run by a Whole Foods market in Austin this week. Needed some of the aspirins my doctor has me take daily. At Whole Foods, I couldn’t find normal aspirin, though.

Not that there aren’t rows and rows of sundry abstracts and supplements that I doubt the FDA ever heard of.

I live 300 miles or so from the nearest Whole Foods, so don’t get by there often.  But when we’re in the Big Town, I like to do some anthropological work on the natives and we were in Austin this weekend to see Alseep at the Wheel’s "A Ride with Bob" performance, so figured why not pick up some aspirins while I was there. As it turns out that, had I found aspirin there, I probably couldn’t have afforded it.

How people spend their money is of little concern to me, but these folks are the Time’s base.  That atmosphere is so, so…self-rightous. And so, so….preachy. I suppose it’s all in the niche marketing thing, but how can these people be so demanding of perfection in matters of labeling and food safety  and yet put all sort of Whole Foody miracle potions in their bodies, whether the stuff has been studied or not.

Back to the campaign against fast foods. I’d have more sympathy for the preachiness and best intentions if it wasn’t this very sort of food evangelists whose "one size fits all" dietary guidelines got us into this obesity epidemic to begin with.

The joys of calving season
Here’s a neat little piece about calving from blogger Amy Kirk.

Brazil and Russia get simpatico
"Brazilian officials said Medvedev's visit advanced talks to eliminate sanitary hurdles that are slowing Brazil's meat sales to Russia, its largest buyer. Other agriculture issues also conditioned by sanitary hurdles refer to the purchase of Russian wheat by Brazil, a net importer, and the sale of Brazilian soy meal and pork to Russia."

Global warming and me
I long since gave up on this world doing anything about global warming, so my next question is what does it mean to me and mine.

This study indicates we’ll get less snow in most of the U.S. Normally, I’d consider that bad news, but this particular morning, with the wind blowing 30-plus and the snow falling so hard they’ve parked the snow plows in the Panhandle, I’m not so sure.

It’s tough calving weather hereabouts, anyhow. I’m not complaining. We sure need the wet part. I don’t suppose much will stick to the wheat or the region’s overgrazed pastures, but it will sure be good for the fence rows and brush.

 --Steve Cornett


Tyson's Red Meat Stepchild, Demand vs. Consumption, and Spiteful Activists

Feb 22, 2013

Tyson’s red meat step child
We’ve got some  thinking to do about this well-crafted story about Tyson’s earnings report.  I’m glad the guys are making money despite their cattle supply problems, but it is scary it is to me that beef marketing has fallen into the hands of such, such, chicken people.

Let us reflect, again, on the fact that these companies buy their beef and grow their own bland meat. So, if they were a grocery store, chicken parts would be their house brand—the stuff the employees get bonuses for pushing—and beef would be the high-cost brand name stuff they have to offer to build traffic. But they’d rather sell the house brand.

Not that I blame the beef side of a Tyson. Not the people. But if I’m Donnie Smith allocating resources, I’d rather sell chicken. More BIMP (old economic term: Bucks in My Pocket).

On the one hand, the Tyson-types do think about what consumers want. They put their name on their product and they want consumers to be happy with what they buy. That’s the main reason poultry mongers have taken such a huge share of beef’s market. Historically, stand alone packers never cared about consumers—IBP least of all. They just wanted to pump through tonnage. More output equals more profit. Let the retailers deal with tough meat.

That has changed. And that is good for cattle producers. It is what little salvation we’ve had in these 30 years of market-share decline.

But to some extent, comes at the cost of having beef being a step child to the more profitable poultry business. If you’re in the manufacturing business--and you are--you want your distributors to make more money selling your product than they make selling the competition.

So, when Tyson buys Taco Bell’s tortilla supplier, how long before Taco Bell is featuring poultry tacos?

Second point brought forward. Note this paragraph:

"Smith said the company would not over produce chicken at sky-rocket grain costs and would err on the side of caution, buying commodity chicken parts and then further processing them for its customers"

If I were one with the anti-packer crowd, that would gall me. Think a few years ahead in a deal where these giant companies let us grow their meat in the bad cycles and then step in to oversupply the market during the good cycles?

I had my doubts when the beef packers were absorbed by the chickenistas. I just had this image of a retailer buying his neighbor just to shut it down and increase market share. I’m not sure yet I was completely wrong.

But more about that some other time.

Demand vs. Consumption. Again
Having become an older gentleman who has labored in this business for many years, this interview with Polly Ruhland reminds me of the many, many times I’ve had to write about and explain the difference in production, consumption and demand.

I daresay it will be more fun for you to listen to Polly than to read my explanation.

Why I hate nosy, spiteful activists. Part deux.
So here’s how this works. First, the activists get your business declared  to be everybody’s business.  Then they demand that your private information be regarded as in the public domain.

These are not the same jerks who post online everybody’s government payments so that nosy people like me can search around and see how much the neighbors make? That would be the Environmental Working Group.

But jerks is jerks is jerks and in both cases, the idea is to raise money for their excellent salaries while making producers (of just about everything, not just beef) miserable.

Oh, the misery in wine country
I am not one to find fault with any writer named Rachel Dovey, and, in fact, this article is well-done so far as it goes.

But she (and I may assume too much, genderwise, from that first name, if I know Sonoma) fails to dig into why nobody slays livestock in the vicinity.

And the answer is the same reason there are so few small abattoirs everywhere else. Government regulation and labor costs. And both are quite popular causes among the locavore types.

--Steve Cornett

Oakie Horses, Another Buck, and an End to the Mad Cow Scare

Feb 21, 2013

Gimme one more buck. Please.
I suppose Mike Callicrate won’t much like this but it’s something this industry needs more of in more states: Nebraska Cattlemen is exploring the idea of adding another $1 to the checkoff on each animal sold in the state.

I love it and I wish we’d do it in Texas, too. When I’m selling calves for $850 to $1,000 what sort of foolish fellow would I be to resent properly funding my marketing budget?

I’m not here to argue that every dollar the beef board spends is spent wisely. I bet a bunch of it is wasted. But I’ve been around the board enough to know their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the best they can. And what I might consider waste (all those pretty pictures of beef as landscape in that inscrutable "land of lean beef" campaign come to mind) others more schooled in such matters obviously think otherwise.

As far as I’m concerned, just the Issues Management efforts have returned more than we’ve paid into the program. So have exports. So have new products. I bet just the value added by that Flat Iron steak I don’t like has paid most of it.

Anyhow, by the time my calf meets his packer, he will have nearly $1,800 invested in him. I bet there is a lot more than a buck of other "waste" in the way I raise him, ship him and get him fed. So now I’m supposed to begrudge a buck to make people want him?

We’ve found out in the last couple of years that $1.25, $1.30 is sort of all consumers think our cattle are worth. If we’re going to get that price ceiling up before numbers allow feeders and packers to regain their fair share, we better be working at market development with  a capital VEL.

Horse meat mapOakies kill horses, don’t they?
No wonder I love Oklahoma, despite OU’s football team buying all the good Texas high school football players, their legislature has authorized horse slaughter!

I know it’s impolite to say it, but I must: A lot of starving nags will be lucky to have a place to die a humane death. I don’t suppose anybody in horse country will disagree, either. Nobody I know, anyhow.

No mad cows around here
I quit fretting over BSE a long time ago, presuming the threat to be minimal and consumers of America to be pretty well inoculated by all the false starts and--maybe, just maybe--some increased understanding of just what a silly thing it is to worry about in the context of all the things to worry about.

But that’s not to say it isn’t great that we’re seeing progress. The OIE yesterday dropped the U.S. to "negligible risk" category which should—notice I said "should" not "will"—drop the rest of the trade barriers erected after that one dairy cow. That, plus Japan’s willingness to finally accept <30 month beef is altogether good news.

I’m a good American, but I’m sure glad to see that Brazil is planning a record crop this year—and don’t forget, they’re upside down so this crop is pretty well made. Maybe that will help answer AgWeb’s question about "How low will corn go?" with something more to the liking of livestock producers.

And while we’re looking at Brazil, if you need a place to contribute  your Obama Bucks now that the domestic political season is over, I suggest Marina Silva in Brazil who is "tireless fighter for the protection of the Amazon rainforest."

Me, too, by golly. Not only does rainforest destruction  make a convenient strawman for the beef haters, but I don’t see us needing all that competition in the world beef market.
Not to mention I just plain like the rainforest. Parrots are cool.


--Steve Cornett

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