5 Trending headlines in the beef world - Aug 24, 2022

Here’s a look at 5 headlines that will be on everyone’s mind this week.

Kristy Foster Seachrist, Digital editor

August 24, 2022

10 Min Read

There is good news for consumers on the buying end of beef but a big problem could be looming for beef producers in the nation’s corn fields. Check out these five stories that are in the news this week.

1. Steak, anyone? Prices for the best cuts of beef are falling

Inflation has been hitting people’s grocery-store receipts quite hard, but the price of beef is dropping, especially for higher-end cuts.

Compared with the same time a year ago, the four-week period ending Aug.7 saw retail beef prices drop 0.7 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal. During the prior four-week period, prices dropped a full 1 percent, the first monthly decline since June 2021.

The cost decrease is thanks in part to lower demand for some more expensive cuts, such as ribeye and New York strip. In response to that, many supermarkets are marking down prices for those more costly steaks.

“Promotional prices have come back to where they were two years ago,” one shopper in Scottsdale, Arizona, told the WSJ. “I always eat red meat. I’m happy.”

Over the past several months, as prices have increased across the board, some of the biggest jumps came in beef. That caused shoppers to switch to lower-cost proteins such as chicken or buy cheaper meat such as ground beef. In fact, despite overall beef prices dropping recently, the price of ground beef is still growing. Over the same four-week period ending August 7, ground-beef prices jumped about 7 percent compared with the same timeframe last year. (In contrast, the price of ribeye and beef loin fell nearly 10 percent.)


2. Some corn plants are so dry they’re not producing ears of grain

The stalks, which should be about 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall by this time of year, are withered, browning and short — some are only standing at about 5 feet. Crop scouts set out this week to analyze yields, and in some isolated patches, they actually had trouble finding enough corn ears to measure. While it’s not a widespread problem, the shocking development is an indicator of just how harsh the hot and dry weather has been. Most of the plants, of course, do have ears — but they’re often in bad shape and are abnormally small. The tops of the ears sometimes aren’t even filled with yellow kernels, and instead, the bare cob is exposed. It’s a phenomenon farmers call “tip back,” and it’s a sign of drought damage.

“Corn is a disaster in some cases,” said Nathan Serbus, a Minnesota farmer and a crop scout on the western leg of the four-day Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. Serbus estimates that 95% percent of the fields he saw on Monday were “extremely bad.”

That’s bad news for a world that’s already suffering from surging global food inflation and extremely tight grain supplies. A bumper US harvest is desperately needed to help replenish food stockpiles diminished by war, heat and drought. But early indications from the closely watched crop tour are signaling that’s not likely to happen, at least as far is corn is concerned.

Scouts traveled through parts of Nebraska, South Dakota, Ohio and Indiana on the first day of the tour on Monday, carefully measuring fields to determine the outlook for this season’s harvest. They found that corn yields in South Dakota averaged 118.45 bushels an acre, down more than 25% from the three-year average. In Ohio, on the eastern side of the farm belt, corn yields were below last year and the latest US Department of Agriculture estimate. Crop scouts in both states also saw harvest potential below last year for soybeans.

On the western leg of the tour, scouts saw everything from hail damage to grasshopper-filled fields, with evidence of the insects having chewed the outside edges of dried-out plants. Some farmers have already given up on their acres and cut them down to turn the dry stalks into cattle feed.

Chip Flory, leader of the western leg of the tour, said one field he saw in southeastern South Dakota only had nine viable ears of corn in a row of plants that stretched 60-feet long. That compares with the three-year average for that area of 87, according to Pro Farmer tour data.

Scouts said they were surprised at how bad some corn fields were in South Dakota because there weren't some of the expected signs of extreme dryness in the fields, like big cracks in the ground. The region has had some rain recently but "the damage was done," Flory told farmers Monday night at a tour meeting in Nebraska. Along with the dryness, high temperatures almost certainly took a big toll during a key development phase for the crops last month, Flory said.

The impact of heatwaves this season in key areas like Iowa, the biggest US corn grower, is a concern. The crop tour will be closely examining those fields on Wednesday and Thursday. The state had an unusually long period of high temperatures in July.


And the dry, hot summer conditions were not limited to the United States.

3. Drought blamed for dozens of cow poisoning deaths in Italy

The Piedmontese cattle on the farm in Sommariva del Bosco, near Turin in northwest Italy, died suddenly due to acute prussic acid poisoning on August 6, according to the local IZS animal welfare body.

This acid comes from dhurrin, which is naturally present in young sorghum plants, although not in the same high concentrations as those found in samples taken at the site.

"We suspect that the drought caused this very large quantity of dhurrin within the sorghum plants," said Stefano Giantin, a vet at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale for northwest Italy, who is on the case.

Prussic acid poisoning in cattle is quick and brutal, with symptoms occurring 10-15 minutes after ingestion and death some 15-30 minutes later. It causes respiratory, nervous and muscular disorders.


4. Woman celebrating 100th birthday still raises and sells cattle

Age is no factor for 100-year-old Ethel Diehl. She still prefers to work, raising and selling cattle.

“I prefer working to just doing nothing, watching TV, you know, or reading books,” she told KWCH. “I want to do my work first and then I have my evenings for that.”

Diehl turned 100 on Aug. 4 but was treated to another birthday celebration this week while selling her cattle in Kansas.

Having lived on a dairy farm as a child, Diehl has been around livestock most of her life, and she’s been raising cattle for the better part of a century.

She said staying active helps her manage the farm, even after her husband’s death.

“Because I worked and got in and out of four-wheel-drive trucks and things like that, I had the muscular ability to continue,” she said. “Never spent a day where I didn’t work, unless I was ill.”

The working mentality is also what Diehl believes the younger generations should adopt to have long and prosperous lives.


Cowboys on horseback, may have some competition when it comes to moving a cattle herd.

5. With virtual fencing, ranchers can herd cows from a computer

From their home in southern Okanogan County, Mike and Joy Wilson inspected the dozens of black cow icons across their computer screen.It was a Thursday afternoon in July, and every several minutes they watched as the icons jumped a centimeter or two within bright yellow lines across a satellite map. Around the cows were water-tap icons and a scattering of long white lines indicating roads.

Joy Wilson noticed one cow had turned red.“We aren’t getting the messages we should be from that cow,” she said as she zoomed in on the animal known as cow 151. She moved her cursor to the edit button, and after a few clicks had turned the cow yellow, meaning it was back in “transmitting” mode.

No, this isn’t some type of strangely specific video game. For more than two months, the map has provided the couple with nearly real-time accounts of the location of their 275 cows across thousands of acres about 40 miles from their home. The mapping software allows them to make major fencing changes to their pastures by simply adjusting yellow lines on their computer screen.

The project on the Okanogan County property is the first of a series of virtual fences set to be erected over the next year across 12 ranches in Washington. A conservation organization, ranchers, local officials and a California-based company are teaming up to add these innovative, environmentally friendly and essentially invisible devices where barbed or hot wire fences have traditionally been.

“The most wildlife-friendly fence you can have is no fence at all,” said Jay Kehne, of Conservation Northwest, a nonprofit environmental organization that has been leading the way on some of the state’s inaugural projects. “But that doesn't allow ranchers to properly graze. … Virtual fence gives the ability to have no fence and be able to manage your animals in a grazing rotation.”

A company called Vence offers the only commercially available virtual fence product for livestock in the U.S., according to C.K. Wisniewski, the company’s rancher success manager. The product, which they launched last year, consists of 7-foot-high, often solar-powered towers, cattle collars and the map-based software Herd Manager. Once a rancher draws a virtual fence using the software and assigns it to a herd, those assignments are transmitted to the towers, which then send that information to each collar, explained Wisniewski. Depending on the topography, each tower can read collars across 10,000 to 30,000 acres.

Based on how the rancher has set their system, the collar will beep when a member of the herd gets within a certain distance of the boundary, and then typically beep and emit a very short, low-voltage shock if the animal gets even closer. The shock, according to Wisniewski, is 400 volts less than a hot wire fence. Some ranchers, she added, don’t actually use that function at all.

“I've seen ranchers that only have sound zones, because the cows have been trained so well that they will respond to sound and never have to get a shock,” she said.

Kehne said the decision for Conservation Northwest to help fund the project in Okanogan County, and push for more virtual fences across the state, came after a series of large fires in Washington in 2020.

Kehne had spoken with some of the ranchers who had been through these fires. “They said they never really wanted to rebuild any more fences. They would much rather go with this new technology called virtual fence,” recalled Kehne. “That's the first time I heard the term virtual fence.”

After doing some research, he said he quickly realized that this new technology could be “game changing.” Fences could be less vulnerable to fires and more easily manipulated by ranchers, while also more wildlife friendly.

Barbed wire fences and electric fences have been around for decades, serving as perimeter barriers, as well as internal barricades. In the western U.S. alone, there are more than 1 million kilometers or about 62,000 miles of fences (not including urban and suburban property fences).

But these fences can ensnare and kill wildlife, as well as block them from migrating from their summer to winter range or through calving and fawning areas, explained Kehne.

Being able to adjust fences with a few clicks on a computer can also make it easier for ranchers to keep cattle out of more sensitive areas, such as streams and breeding grounds, said Kehne. They can also put inclusionary virtual fences around areas that need to be grazed more heavily because they’re infested with invasive species, such as cheatgrass, or to create a firebreak.





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