Everyone’s talking about the demographic changes occurring in our industry. You know what I mean – the loss of mid- to small-size cattlemen as the economies of scale seem to dictate that an operator either has to get big or become relegated to hobby status.
It seems like I talk almost daily to some corn farmer who tells me he used to run 30-100 cows and maybe fed out 500 head/year, but sold out of the cattle business. What’s more, the only planned involvement they have with the cattle industry is to continue to sell about half their grain crop to cattlemen. Nonetheless, they enjoy telling a story or two about the days when they had cattle.
Is it possible to attract these folks back to the cattle business? It’s difficult to imagine how this would happen in the short term, but perhaps eventually some grain farmers might look for additional income, which would buff up cattle’s attractiveness to them. Or perhaps the younger, more energetic, generation of crop farmers may look at cattle as a way to balance out their labor requirements during the late fall and winter months.
Still, I can’t help but think that the main difference today from yesteryear is that raising cattle is no longer “sexy.” It wasn’t that long ago that in order to be part of the “in” crowd and to be fully respected and recognized, most farmers wanted to have a few cows. That allure seems to have faded away.
I understand that modern agriculture allows us to feed a hungry world, providing the safest, most wholesome and cost-effective food supply in the world. And I know that in order to feed a growing population and to protect the environment, that modern agriculture is the key.
Still, for the first time, I think I see the lure of the local food movement and the antipathy toward modern agriculture. It does tend to remove the romanticism around agriculture. Admittedly, the stocker, feeder, packing and wholesale segments have long been considered “real life” business units. But the cow-calf segment never has been, at least not entirely, if for no other reason than it’s never been able to sustain such scrutiny.
I believe what all the experts tell us about taking a more business approach to cattle production, but I also understand that when the romanticism dies, the cow-calf segment and the industry in general will be significantly smaller. It will perhaps be more profitable, but significantly smaller.