The number of cows and heifers that will calve in 2015 reached 39.8 million head, up 2% from 2014, according to USDA’s semi-annual Cattle report. Those number indicate the resulting 2015 calf crop will number 34.3 million head, up 1% from 2014, says John F. Grimes, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension beef coordinator.
It appears that slowly but surely, market prices have increased enough, areas of drought have significantly reduced, and the motivation is there for expansion plans to become a reality. In a recent article for the OSU Beef Newsletter, Grimes writes, “CattleFax provides more indicators of aggressive expansion of the beef cow herd. Beef cow slaughter is on pace to be the smallest in at least 45 years. The percentage of heifers being placed in feedlots compared to steers continues to run very small. This reduction in feedlot heifer placements has resulted in an increase in over 300,000 head of beef replacement females added to herds in the previous year. Much like grain producers, beef producers are showing the ability to increase overall production levels with the proper motivation.”
The uptick in prices is great for cattlemen and herd expansion is reflecting that optimism; however, on the retail end of things, consumers are still facing sticker shock at the meat case. For example, at my local grocery store, ribeye steaks are selling for a whopping $15.98 per pound and a pound of ground beef has leveled off at about $5, which may deter some shoppers from purchasing beef and steer them toward cheaper protein options like chicken breast and pork loin.
Of course, folks who want to enjoy steak on the grill are likely to splurge on the beef they love anyway; however, another concern to maintaining beef demand is the growing voice of animal rights activists telling folks they should feel guilty about eating meat.
A reader recently sent BEEF Senior Editor Burt Rutherford a Barron’s article titled, “The future of food finance.” Written by Matthew Prescott, senior food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the article promotes a vegan or vegetarian diet.
After Prescott quotes several media sources that claim all meat is raised in “factories,” resulting in “cruel and senseless torture on the farm,” he encourages readers to embrace the “three Rs,” which mean: “Refining their diets by avoiding factory-farmed products, while reducing the amount of meat they eat, and replacing it with plant-based meals.”
Prescott references the decreased numbers in both livestock and the producers who tend to them; however, he forgets to mention that with these fewer numbers, ranchers are able to produce more meat and animal by-products using fewer natural resources. Just because efficiency is increased doesn’t mean that animal husbandry goes out the window — quite the opposite, as it makes zero financial sense to abuse animals.
What’s troubling about an article like this is that it perpetuates a lie that farmers and ranchers shouldn’t be trusted and that society and extremist groups like HSUS should call the shots on how we conduct our business. Whether we like it or not, consumer perception will dictate how we run our operations in the future. So as producers look to expand their herds, remember that with growth comes opportunity. We need to take the growing momentum in the beef industry and use it to promote how ranchers are efficiently and lovingly producing more beef that Americans love to put it on the dinner table.
If increased regulations don’t cripple the industry infrastructure, the beef cattle business certainly has a bright future. However, as we're busy growing our herds at home, we can't forget to also meet consumers in places where they’ll listen, and we need to stop letting activists like Prescott tell our stories for us.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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