Every year in the middle of January, the seedstock industry gathers in Denver. As a kid, going to the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) was like a second Christmas. The NWSS is special; there are six or seven other major stock shows that are equally importantly regionally, but the NWSS is literally the “Super Bowl of Livestock Shows.”
Other shows might have better rodeos and better facilities, but the Denver show’s central location, its timing (before calving gets started and bull sale season gets kicked off in earnest), and its unique factors like “The Yard Show” make it special. It’s the undisputed “place to be” if you’re in the seedstock business, and it tends to set the tone for the industry.
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The pulse of the seedstock industry isn’t a lot different than the rest of the industry. Prices are record-high on virtually all classes of cattle, and initial bull sale results are simply unprecedented. Who would have thought just a few years ago that a $6,000 bull would be just an average bull in a lot of sales today?
The future looks bright, and the tools to make genetic improvement have never been better. Of course, you can still find wild extremes if you look, but the industry is focusing in and making dramatic progress on selecting for the economically relevant traits of beef production for the most part. In fact, seedstock producers are even surprised by the amount of progress. The high-selling bulls of five years ago would now be in the bottom 20% of most of this year’s sale offerings.
Like other segments, the optimism is tempered by the reality that’s been created by drought and rising input costs; the specter of significant liquidation still looms. The long-term outlook is definite; the short-term outlook is dependent on Mother Nature.
As good as the outlook is for individual seedstock producers, breed associations find themselves in a quandary of sorts. The value of their genetic evaluation programs continues to increase, but technology and the possibility of competition are making it difficult for the first time ever to increase revenues and margins. There’s never been a better time to be in the seedstock business, yet survival over the next 12 months remains a major concern.
But one thing still holds true in the seedstock business – when you part ways, you can say “see you in Denver” and be assured that you probably will.