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Articles from 2020 In February

Traceability’s next step: U.S. CattleTrace


Few would disagree about the ongoing confusion surrounding the federal government’s faltering efforts to implement what is currently known as the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program.

Recently, USDA’s Animal Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for ADT, added another layer of bewilderment by quietly removing a fact sheet with a timeline for mandatory implementation of approved electronic identification (EID) from its website. Keep in mind, for beef cattle, ADT is currently mandatory only for certain adult cattle moving across state lines.

The subsequent APHIS statement added more murk, saying in part, “… Since the fact sheet was posted, APHIS has listened to the livestock industry’s feedback. In light of these comments and current executive branch policy, APHIS believes that we should revisit those guidelines. APHIS has removed the fact sheet from its website, as it is no longer representative of current agency policy.”

Depending on one’s leanings, some producers took it to mean USDA was taking a step back from moving ADT forward. Others thought it was merely a matter of shoring up details.

In the meantime, the absence of a standardized national system, with enough producer participation to make a difference, means the U.S. cattle industry remains vulnerable to the a foreign animal disease (FAD) that takes too long to track and contain. Never mind that ADT now ignores calves and feeder cattle moving interstate.

“History should serve as a warning to us. My message has been that three things are certain in life: death, taxes and mandatory traceability if we have a foreign animal disease,” says Brandon Depenbusch, chairman of the U.S. CattleTrace board of directors.

He’s alluding to the number of major beef-producing countries forced to contend with FADs over the past few decades, from foot-and-mouth in Europe and South America to bovine spongiform encephalopathy here and around the world.

This vulnerability is the impetus behind what some likely consider cattle producers’ strongest step yet in developing a practical disease traceability system.

Advancing traceability

Toward the end of January, industry organizations undertaking traceability pilot projects based in Kansas, Texas and Florida announced they were partnering to launch U.S. CattleTrace (USCT), a voluntary disease traceability initiative with the goal to develop a national infrastructure for disease traceability and to encourage private industry use of the infrastructure for individual management practices.

“Cattle disease traceability is a top priority in the beef cattle industry, and this partnership will continue to help guide the development of an enhanced traceability system in the United States,” explains Jim Lovell, a past chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA).

“Our different state projects have always had a similar goal in mind — to develop a disease traceability system that works across the country. Combining our efforts makes this initiative stronger on a national level.”

For the record, the CattleTrace pilot project based in Kansas — one of the building blocks of USCT — includes partnerships with USDA and state departments of agriculture in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Other partners include auction markets in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia; cattle feeding organizations with feedyards in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington; and three of the four largest beef packing companies. Combined, these businesses have EID readers installed in seven states.

At last fall’s CattleTrace Industry Symposium, Depenbusch explained, “CattleTrace is a producer initiative to build a national disease traceability infrastructure that captures information as animals flow through the supply chain, and automatically sends it to a single database for the purpose of disease traceability.”

Similarly, the Traceability Pilot, based in Texas, is an industry-driven, individual identification program that facilitates disease traceability, provides opportunities for value-added premiums negotiated by business-to-business partnerships throughout the cattle-beef supply chain, and operates at the speed of commerce.

It is a partnership among TCFA, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA). FCA has been conducting its own auction-barn traceability pilot study as well.

Keep in mind that none of the organizations involved sought ownership of a national initiative then or now. They’ve been searching for solutions that benefit the industry as a whole. Now, they’re working together as one.

“With producers and industry stakeholders working together from across the country, the U.S. CattleTrace partnership will be a catalyst to build upon the CattleTrace foundation we established in the past few years,” Depenbusch says. “We encourage other state organizations and individual producers to join our efforts in building a nationally significant animal disease traceability system for the United States. By working together, we will build something that works for the industry.”


When Depenbusch talks to producers, he emphasizes USCT is a  producer-driven program that will comply with any federal program requirements, but is not a government program. He also stresses privacy of participant data. The database is privately owned. Plus, electronic readers collect only four pieces of data: the official animal identification number, as well as the time, date and GPS location of where the tag is read.

Volunteer leaders from each of the USCT partner organizations agreed to a set of guiding principles:

Protein market protection. To protect the producers’ share of the protein market from the potential impact of a disease event, cattle identification and traceability needs to be enacted, enhanced and further developed using EID and electronic transfer of data.

Voluntary national traceability. U.S. CattleTrace is focused on developing a voluntary national traceability system to include all cattle and complement current USDA regulations.

Domestic and foreign significance. The goal is to build a system that is recognized as nationally significant to all domestic and foreign markets.

Equitability for all industry segments. The U.S. CattleTrace disease traceability system strives to be equitable to all industry segments, and must be industry-driven and managed by a producer board of directors to ensure data privacy and protection.

One technology for U.S. traceability system. U.S. CattleTrace supports the use of one technology for a United States cattle industry disease traceability system to maximize the value of technology investment. Since multiple electronic identification technologies are in use today, U.S. CattleTrace will accept data in a standardized electronic format from available technologies, but supports a transition to ultra-high-frequency technology. 

For more information about U.S. CattleTrace, including details on how to get involved, visit

Marketing your calves in 2020 — Plan B

Weaned backgrounded calves

Marketing 2019 calves was the primary question on my study herd rancher’s mind as I sat down for our December management meeting. He requested we focus on preparing a marketing plan for all of his 2019 calf crop. I was anticipating that question, so I had done some homework before the meeting.

December’s market analysis. The first item on the agenda was a review of market prices. Lightweight calf prices were a little stronger in mid-December compared to mid-October’s weaning prices.

Heavier feeder prices, on the other hand, were a little weaker in December. January feeder price projections were slightly stronger in December compared to October. These revised planning prices were entered into current budget projections used in this management discussion. We then turned our discussion to marketing each group of 2019 calves.

2019 replacement heifers. These heifer calves born in 2019 will be developed and bred in 2020, calve the first time in 2021, and then they should calve through 2027 and be culled in 2027 under the assumption of seven calves in a lifetime — certainly subject to debate. I tend to use a seven-calf lifetime in all of my economic analyses, knowing very well that some females will drop out due to being open before the seventh calf.

I project that these 2019 replacement heifers will cost $1,336 to develop through preg-check in 2020. This includes the market value at 2019 weaning, plus all development costs including breeding value thru preg-check in fall 2020. I then transfer these preg-checked females into the mature cow herd.

Somehow we need to net this $1,336 heifer cost from her through the lifetime calves produced plus her salvage value. In some years of the price cycle, salvage value of a replacement heifer can almost equal the net incomes generated from the heifer’s lifetime calves.

The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at  the University of Missouri has published long-run price projections for much of the next cattle cycle. It projects a gradual price increase from 2020 through 2028, suggesting a far less dramatic cycle than the last cycle.

I currently question if a 2019 heifer calf can be developed into a commercial cow that will make the owner any money.

 The idea is that the most profitable cows are those females reaching their peak production at 4 to 6 years of age at or just before the peak in the price cycle, and are culled in or just after the peak price year. Females calving in the early years of the cattle cycle tend to make considerably less profit.

This argument has some validity with respect to the study herd rancher’s 2019 replacement heifers. In summary, it makes a difference when a heifer starts calving in the beef price cycle.

 Replacement heifers are the hardest group to analyze at this time, and I need more time to do a thorough analysis of this group of animals. In past cycles, the heifer calves born in low-price years of the cycle have been culled before the peak price time in the price cycle.

I have previously documented that these are not the most profitable retained heifer calves. It is fairly clear, at least to me, that a profitable replacement heifer needs to calve into the price cycle peak, and then be culled at or just past that price cycle peak.

I need to conduct a full-scale analysis of the profit implications of FAPRI’s new cycle projection. I then asked my study rancher if we could postpone the discussion on the economics of developing 2019 replacement heifers until I do more economic analysis of the next cattle cycle. We then returned our focus to an in-depth look at marketing the rest of the 2019 calf crop. 

Heifer calves not selected for replacements. When the cost of preconditioning 2019 heifers was budgeted for selling in December, a profit of $10 per head for preconditioning was projected. Not big, but at least paying its way. 

My study herd rancher made the decision to sell his heifer calves not needed for replacements in December on the slightly strong heifer market. That generated some year-end operating capital.

The subject of spaying the heifers also came up as I mentioned that USDA reported prices for spayed heifers in its Oct. 20 Nebraska Market Report. My statistical study of those market data suggested that spayed heifers averaged $51 per head over unspayed heifers. He decided to explore spaying the heifers before selling. A first for my study rancher — and me, too.

Steer calves. December projections for backgrounding the rancher’s steer calves to 780 pounds was still projected to be a breakeven situation, while the finishing budget for these same feeders is projected at profit of $139 per head.

The December marketing plan is to background the steer calves at home, even though current projections suggest about a breakeven with this backgrounding enterprise. The potential profit comes from the favorable current budget projection for finishing these backgrounded calves in June.

In the meantime, my study rancher is going to visit with some custom feedlot managers and learn more about custom-feeding steer calves. The marketing decision for the steer calves was made approximately mid-January. This gives my study herd rancher one more month’s price projections to take into account before committing to custom feeding.

The 2019 closeout for the beef cow herd. We closed the book on the 2019 beef cow herd based on the sale of the non-replacement heifers and the Dec. 31 inventory value of the replacement heifers and steer calves.

The year-end books showed a net return of $98 per beef cow, for a yearly earned net income of $16,700 from the 2019 beef cow herd. This compares to $37,492 for the same beef cow herd in 2018. This study rancher’s goal is to try to make up some of that difference in marketing his steer calves after the first of the year.

Stay tuned.

Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Kuna, Idaho. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected].

This Week in Agribusiness, Feb. 29, 2020

Part 1

Max joins us from Commodity Classic in San Antonio, where he spoke with Kevin Ross, president, National Corn Growers Association, about his thoughts on the corn industry going forward.

Max also spoke with Bill Gordon, president, American Soybean Association, about the organization's outlook for 2020 and the soybean industry.

Part 2

Mike Pearson is also in San Antonio and spoke with Ted Seifred, Zaner Ag Hedge, about the impact of coronavirus, corn and soybean market outlook, planting intentions and the wheat market.

Chad Colby visits with Robert Saik, Dot Technology Corporation, about autonomous farm equipment and farmer reactions.

Part 3

Max spoke with Matt Lohr, chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, about his connection with farmers and what the NRCS does for farmers.

Part 4

In the Plan Smart, Grow Smart series, Max visited with Corey Atley, Ohio farmer, and BASF innovation specialist Matt Cook, about fungicide trials and his farm operation.

Greg Soulje is in studio for the weather forecast.

Part 5

Greg Soulje is back with an extended weather outlook.

Part 6

There's a Farmall M in Max's Tractor Shed this week.

The FFA Chapter Tribute goes to Verona FFA in Missouri.

Time and financial limits for campaigns? That's what's on Orion's mind in Samuelson Sez.

Part 7

Max spoke with Bob Bowman, Commodity Classic co-chair, about the trade show and education at the show.

America’s most wanted: Vets a hot commodity in rural America

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Veterinary medicine is important, valuable work in our real communities. We rely on the expertise of trusted veterinarians to provide advice, skills and advanced medicinal care for our livestock and pets.

Yet, we continually hear about shortages in rural America for veterinarians. It makes sense though. Why palpate a cow and have the labor, stress, fatigue and workload of being out in the field for low pay when you can work in a cushy, urban office tending to cute dogs and cats?

More than the risk and physical labor of being a large animal veterinarian, the rising debt load for veterinary school is a huge obstacle to enter this industry. The most recent data provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that the average student loan debt for veterinary school graduates is $143,757.82, and more than 20% graduate with more than $200,000 in loans!

While there are initiatives and resources available to assist new vet school graduates, the upfront bill is dizzying to consider, to say the least!

To get a better idea of this ongoing issue, the USDA releases data each year to help identify shortages where practitioners are desperately needed. Through an application process, USDA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program matches qualified veterinarians to shortage areas with the incentive of offsetting significant portions of their student loan debt.

Learn more about the program by clicking here.

Another new program that may entice more young people to pursue an exciting and rewarding career in veterinary medicine was just released by South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

According to an article published by the Minnesota Daily, “A new University of Minnesota degree will focus on rural veterinary practices to address the shortage of veterinarians in the Greater Midwest. The program, which is a collaboration with South Dakota State University, was officially announced this month. Beginning in August 2021, students will study for two years at South Dakota State followed by two years at the University of Minnesota. Upon completion, students will gain a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine, with a primary focus on a mixed animal practice. Students from any university can apply to the program.

“‘We are really teaching a countryside practice, at the edge of both city and country. Within a mixed animal practice, veterinarians can look at anything from baby goats, horses or cows, to cats and dogs, said Gary Gackstetter, director of South Dakota State’s Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine. ‘[Rural vets] look at the full spectrum and need to be able to do lots of things.’”

Read the entire article by clicking here.

What else can be done to attract more talent to the field of large animal veterinary medicine? While our community is blessed with an abundance of talented practitioners, I know other rural areas continue to struggle with access to on-call veterinarians who don’t have to travel great distances to help their clients. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please, share in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

MORNING Midwest Digest, Feb. 28, 2020

Victims of the Molson Coors shooting are being remembered.

Nebraska lawmakers are trying to pass a bill to stop vaping in public places.

There's a battle betweeen Indiana and Illinois on which state is better.

How will Rod Blagojevich make a living after prision? Perhaps personalized video greetings.

Farm Progress America, February 28, 2020

Max Armstrong offers insight on the work of animal rights extremists against farmers raising livestock. The challenge is that activists want to put an end to all animal agriculture. Max shares information from the Animal Ag Alliance showing the ways that activist groups break into farms, steal animals and do other actions that can cause challenges for livestock facilities.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Contributor/Getty Images News

Implant-type anaplasmosis vaccine developed

Kansas State University Applying the anaplasmosis implant
“Research by Kansas State University and Iowa State University has resulted in a new vaccination method to protect against anaplasmosis infections.”

Researchers at two universities are developing a new vaccine delivery platform to produce long-lasting protection against anaplasmosis infections.

Bovine anaplasmosis, caused by the blood-borne parasite Anaplasma marginale, is a worldwide problem for cattle.

The current control strategy providing mineral or feed containing the antibiotic chlortetracycline to cattle on pasture doesn’t fit well with the current pressure to reduce antimicrobial usage, said Andrew Curtis, doctoral research assistant in the laboratory of Hans Coetzee, professor and head of the anatomy and physiology department at Kansas State University.

Curtis also notes there is an experimental vaccine in process to control anaplasmosis, but it requires multiple injections and it has not been evaluated in published research studies.

The objective of the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine study was to develop a single-dose implant vaccine platform that provides long-term immunity against anaplasmosis infections by releasing vaccine contents over an extended period.

This new single-dose vaccine, administered as an implant in the back of the ear, has been shown to protect against clinical anaplasmosis for up to two years. It could potentially help make anaplasmosis control more accessible and convenient to livestock producers, Curtis said. Coetzee added the researchers would like to develop a single vaccine implant that could potentially provide lifelong protection.

Iowa State University currently holds a patent for the implant platform and the K-State/Manhattan Innovation Center is exploring a partnership with Iowa State to further develop this technology.

The first step to a commercially available product would include finding a commercial partner to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This project was supported in part by the Iowa Livestock Health Advisory Council and the faculty start-up funding provided by Kansas State University.

The study, "Rapid Communication: Development of a subcutaneous ear implant to deliver an anaplasmosis vaccine to dairy steers," was published in the Journal of Animal Science.

7 ag stories you might have missed this week - Feb. 28, 2020

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It's been a busy week in ag news. Here are seven stories from the week.

1. Trade has been at the forefront since President Trump took office. On the heels of updates to trade deals with China, Japan, Mexico and Canada, an examination of how these agreements might move the needle on demand for your farm products. – Farm Futures

2. Agricultural experts caution that the coronavirus outbreak could impede China's ability to buy a promised $80 billion in farm goods from the United States. Movement of goods in and out of China has all but stopped, businesses remain closed and workers are staying home. Chinese ports have no space for new ships carrying refrigerated cargo and there are long delays offloading other types of cargo. –

3. The first county yield data released Feb. 20 by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service suggests soybean farmers will have a better shot at aid when ARC-county checks are cut in the fall. – Farm Futures

4. The dairy sector has struggled for years with low milk prices and rising bankruptcies among small farmers and big milk processors. Fluid milk consumption has been falling in the U.S. for years, but consumers are actually buying more dairy goods overall. – Politico

5. Cargill will launch plant-based hamburger patties and ground products in April, challenging Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods for sales in grocery stores, cafeterias and restaurants. Demand for meat alternatives has soared as consumers add plant-based protein to their diets. – Reuters

6. American farmers spend about $32 billion annually to rent land and the CEO of Tillable thinks the startup could be farmland's AirBnB or Zillow. But some farmers are concerned about Tillable disrupting relationships they've cultivated with landowners. - NPR

7. University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy economist Bob Cropp believes milk prices will remain strong in 2020. Cropp estimates the Class III milk price in 2020 will average about $18. – Wisconsin Agriculturalist

And your bonus.

Farmers in England are looking at subsidy cuts post-Brexit. Under the planned phase-out of the EU direct subsidy system based on land holdings, English farmers will instead be paid for environmental projects on their land. – Financial Times

Meat Market Update | Box beef cutout slowly starts comeback

The daily spot Choice box beef cutout ended the week at $205.09, which was $3 lower compared to previous Friday. It is still below last year, when it was $219.39. Usually this is the time of the year when it starts to climb higher after a seasonal decline, so hopefully it will start to climb higher now. In fact, Friday it started to improve, then continued higher and was $207.47 on Tuesday, February 25.    

The weekly average Choice cutout, which includes all types of sales, including the daily Choice cutout was $210.18. This which was $0.27 higher on the heels of the weekly average Choice rib primal price jump. It has firmed up similar to previous years after dropping lower. However, it still remains higher than the daily Choice cutout because formula and out-front sales kept it from dropping much lower with larger sales volume than the daily spot sales.

The weekly average Choice rib primal was $8 higher, starting the normal spring rally, though a little later than last year. The weekly average Choice loin primal was steady. We are just ahead of the normal grilling season rally that should start soon.

Feeder cattle prices drop significantly

There was a big run of feeder cattle with 41,400 head at the test auctionsm which was 10,000 head higher than last week. Prices took a very big drop and were mostly $3-11 lower, losing what they gained last week and even more on some weight groups.

Slaughter cow numbers continue to climb slightly higher with 6,500 head at the test auctions. The prices were mostly $1-3 lower on the heals of the dropping cow cutout that was $175.91 on Wednesday, which was over $8 lower than the previous Wednesday.