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Blacklands Farmers and Ranchers Hear About Opportunities at BIG Conference

06:20AM Feb 21, 2014

By: Blair Fannin, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Hundreds of Texas farmers and ranchers welcomed the rain and spent a day indoors listening to the latest opportunities in the cattle market, potential for alternative crops, as well as other commodity presentations at the 2014 Blackland Income Growth Conference at the Extraco Events Center in Waco.

Dr. Doug Steele, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said in his keynote speech, that the agency is working with multi-generations of individuals throughout the state. Though mobile technology continues to grow in distributing and receiving information, conferences such as the annual Blackland meeting provide in-depth information, bringing together producers, academic and industry experts.

"These face to face meetings are invaluable," he said. "The older you are, the more you appreciate coming together, finding out about one’s health, grandchildren – not just subject matter, it’s social."

Steele said feeding the world, improving health, protecting the environment, enriching youth and growing the economy are some of the grand challenges the agency is tackling through statewide programming and partnering with Texas A&M AgriLife Research to translate the latest scientific discoveries.

Dr. Rick Machen, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, Uvalde, led a full day of beef cattle sessions focusing on rebuilding the cowherd.

"We’ve got to be encouraged by the moisture we are receiving today, and we may be working our way through one of the most catastrophic droughts we’ve ever ranched through."

Machen gave an overview of the current cattle market, which has continued to climb week after week due to national cattle inventories at lows not seen since the 1950s.

"One of (the) questions we have to ask ourselves is how much better can it get?" Machen said.

Feeder cattle operators are paying big premiums for cattle since there are fewer to go around. To put it in perspective, in 2004, Machen said 100 head of steers on feed cost $78,000. He said in 2014 that cost has risen to $128,000. Machen said feedlot operators are trying to keep pens full, but having to pay big premiums to keep volume and operations in check.

"The cost of doing business has gone up appreciably even though we have high prices," Machen said.

Since feedlots are like hotels, with fewer cattle to place in pens, profits have drastically declined, leading to consolidation.

One of the opportunities beef cattle producers can capitalize on is yield quality. Machen said there have been big price swings in the value of select and choice boxed beef. Beef cattle producers that can produce calves that fit the high end of the yield quality grade can potentially receive premiums.

"I think feeders will take a harder look at those cattle that can make the grade," he said.