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Celebrating National Ag Week with Ag in the Classroom

img_5332.JPG Yesterday, I had the great opportunity to speak with nearly 300 fourth graders at Mitchell's annual agriculture in the classroom event, held at the Davison County 4-H Grounds. The event had stations to teach students about beef, dairy, pigs, sheep, horses, soil and farm safety. My sister, Kaley, and I were in charge of the beef booth, so we brought in a new baby calf for the kids to see and pet. Of course, we wanted to provide another educational element to the booth, so we set up a table full of beef by-products for the kids to learn about how beef cattle truly enrich their every day lives. Remember my blog post from a few weeks ago? We put the lessons from that post to work, "By-Products Enrich Our Daily Lives (Vegans, Too)," and shared this message with students who were full of questions about farmers, how they take care of the animals and where their food comes from.

img_5352.JPG We met with 12 different fourth grade classrooms, and when speaking to the groups, I had a few important messages that I wanted to get across. First, ranchers care. Second, beef cattle enrich our lives every single day. Third and most important, Kaley and I stressed that from a young age, we learned the tough lesson of the circle of life. Although we loved having new baby calves on the farm, ultimately, we know our cattle will be used as a resource to help improve lives. We told the kids that whether they were riding the bus to school, doing their homework, playing sports or getting ready for bed, beef cattle are always a part of their daily routines. Today, I thought I would offer you the chance to peak inside fourth graders' minds to see what they really think and know about agriculture. I have listed some of the most interesting student questions and comments from yesterday, and I hope they provide some insight as to where our educational messages should focus. Here we go:

In referencing a calf during my speech..."What's a calf?"

When asking the group what a heifer was..."Well, a heifer is tough to explain, but let me try. It's a cross between two animals that can't have babies."

When asking what cattle need to be happy and healthy..."Water, food, shelter, and LOVE." (So true)

When showing them beef by-products like chewing gum and marshmallows..."I'm never going to chew gum again! Yuck!"

When explaining our ear tags and record keeping system..."Does it hurt when they get the tag in their ear?" (I told them it was just like getting their ears pierced.)

When showing an arial photo of our farm and pointing out the barns, the pastures and pens..."Good, I'm glad there are LOTS of pastures. Do you let your cows out there all the time?"

I also received many questions about how long cows live, how many babies they might have, how much they eat and how they are harvested. This experience only reaffirmed my belief that education and conversation with our consumers, whether they are 8 or 80, is critical for our success in the industry. We have got to do more to share our story and teach people about where their food comes from, and all it takes is a minute.

BEEF Daily Quick Fact: Did you know? It takes 3,000 head of cattle to produce enough leather to make enough footballs to supply the entire NFL season!

Market Strength Continues

It’s too soon in the global and domestic economic recovery to know for sure if it will stick; there are too many challenges and question marks. But, this past week, cattle markets were more than hopeful.

Consider yet another week when strong buyer demand pushed auction prices steady to $3 higher for stocker and feeder cattle.

“Several large-volume auction markets reported opening sales not quite reaching last week’s levels, but seeing the market gain momentum through the day and into the evening hours on heavy offerings,” said analysts with the Agricultural Marketing Service Friday. “These are good demand signs of a wide buying base being forced to push price levels late in the sale to complete orders, long after the market should have been established and order sources had been contacted several times.”

Part of the heavy auction offering last week stemmed from wheat cattle forced from the pastures of owners raising a dual-purpose crop.

Cattle feeders stood their ground and won the weekly faceoff with packers as fed cattle prices gained $2-$3 on a live basis – $94-$95 in the South and $91-$93 in the North.

For that matter, analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) said Friday that cattle feeders last month achieved profitability for the first time in 32 months – about $20/head. That’s based on LMIC calculations – feeding a steer weighing 750 lbs. in a typical Southern Plains commercial yard, accounting for all costs, but not including risk management.

“Positive closeouts were propelled by the highest monthly average fed steer price since November 2008, combined with manageable feedstuff and feeder steer costs,” say LMIC analysts. “For example, the cost of the feeder animal that was sold as a fed steer in February was the lowest for any month since early 2004.”

Feedlot closeouts should remain positive for the next several months say the LMIC folks. By early summer, though, red ink could return.

“The estimated breakeven sale price for a steer to be sold for slaughter in June is about $91/cwt., which incorporates the recent run-up in feeder cattle prices,” LMIC analysts say. “Even though recent futures market prices were in the low $90s/cwt. for this summer, the cash fed cattle market will need several positive factors to come into play to achieve those price levels, including rather robust beef exports and improved domestic demand for beef.”

The summary below reflects the week ended March 12 for Medium and Large 1 – 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb. (calves), and 700- to 750-lb. feeder heifers and steers (unless otherwise noted). The list is arranged in descending order by auction volume and represents sales reported in the weekly USDA National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary:

Summary Table
State Volume Steers Heifers
Calf Weight 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs. 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs.
OK 50,300 $122.31 $112.18 $105.14 $109.10 $101.36 $95.30
MO 43,400 $121.15 $111.95 $104.01 $106.19 $100.28 $93.82
Dakotas 37,300






KY* 33,300 $114.00 $104.54 $97.17 $100.29 $91.37 $86.64
TX 23,200 $120.06 $112.73 $102.24 $108.25 $100.40 $95.11
NE 16,800 $127.14 $116.85 $106.08 $112.38 $105.35 $98.34
IA 13,600 $123.18 $113.10 $106.53 $108.87 $103.41 $96.91
AL 13,000 $114.19 $106.22 $94.99 $98.37 $92.92 $85.81
KS 13,000 $126.44 $115.12 $107.30 $110.13 $102.55 $95.09
AR 11,500 $111.80 $108.66 $106.274 $101.81 $95.16 $93.114
TN* 11,100 $111.10 $103.27 $94.68 $97.20 $88.43 $84.87
Carolinas* 9,600 $98-117.50 $90-106 $85-90 $85-106 $80-96 $74.50-87.50
NM 7,300 $116.42 $102.88 $103.78 $101.20 $100.74 $89.34
VA 7,300 $112.24 $104.57 $93.73 $95.76 $92.21 $87.31
CO 6,800 $130.74 $121.22 $103.83 $114.68 $108.33 $97.33
GA*(***) 6,400 $100-118 $92-111 $88-100 $86-101 $81-94 $79-86
MS* 5,600 $104-1171 $95-1103 $86-955 $90-1001 $85-973 $84-905
FL* 4,800 $104-128 $93-109 $84-866 $88-101 $80-90 $78-83
MT 4,400 $126.18 $108.874 $102.486 $115.25 $110.512 $95.10
LA* 3,700 $99-119 $98-112 $92-1044 $96-107 $90-99 $88-944
WY 3,600 $125.27 $120.392 $98.846 $117.41 $109.722 $93.686
WA* 1,700 $122.79 $115.21 $102.96 $114.38 $102.74 $100.084

* Plus # 2
** None reported of the same quality at this weight or near weight
(***) Steers and bulls
(?) As reported, but questionable
NDNo Description
1500-600 lbs.
2550-600 lbs.
3600-700 lbs.
4650-700 lbs.
5700-800 lbs.
6750-800 lbs.
7800-850 lbs.
8850-900 lbs.

Gearing Up Again With Team ZIP

img19319_0715.jpg It's that time of year again...calving is in full swing, the spring thaw is well underway and it's time to hit the pavement and start training for summer races. Last year, my sister and I ran our first half-marathon, and I've been itching to get back into the swing of things. I've scheduled in six races to compete in, starting in April and ending in October, and I hope you will send words of encouragement to help keep me on track and cross the finish line strong.

In reading running magazines, it's evident that athletes are focusing more on what foods they are eating to fuel their bodies, and many have questions and misunderstandings about beef as a healthy part of a well-balanced diet. That's why it's so important for beef producers to be part of the conversation, which is the main focus of Team ZIP (zinc, iron and protein), a group of more than 400 runners, of which I'm a member, who believe in the power of protein in the land of lean beef. Members of Team ZIP demonstrate that beef gives athletes the strength they need to cross the finish line. These members participate in running, cycling and triathlon events across the country.

dscn3437.jpg Two members of Team ZIP I would like to feature today are Calli Thorne, a ND beef producer, and Daren Williams, who many of you have worked with in the Masters of Beef Advocacy program. Both have been an inspiration to me in my running goals, and both are committed to combining their passion for the beef industry and their talents in athletics into one dynamic campaign for consumers. I spoke with Thorne and Williams about their Team ZIP experiences, and here is what they had to say...

"We started Team ZIP to promote beef as part of a healthy lifestyle and to demonstrate the 'power of protein' in a tangible way," said Williams. "It's one thing to talk about the power of protein in advertisements and magazine articles, but when we have athletes competing in marathons, triathlons and 100-mile bike rides wearing Team ZIP jerseys it sends a strong message to other athletes that the protein and other essential nutrients in beef provide fuel for the finish."

half-marathon-fargo.jpg “I think it’s especially important for producers to be reaching consumers at events such as races because it’s places like that where you can actually find some of the most unhealthy people when it comes to eating,” added Thorne, who works as an extension agent of animal systems in Fort Berthold. “Often times, runners believe animal protein, especially beef, is not a nutritious choice for them, and they don’t completely understand the benefits of eating a steak before a race.”

"The Team ZIP running and cycling jerseys stand out in a crowd," attested Williams. "The image of a large T-Bone steak (one of the 29 lean cuts of beef) sizzling on a grill that adorns the front and back of the jersey catches people’s attention. As you run you’ll hear people shouting, “go beef” and, “you’re making me hungry!” My reply is always the same, “Follow me to the finish; I’ll be at the steakhouse.” Of course, we get the occasional vegetarian comment but that just makes me run faster. I’m not going to let them beat me! So the zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins in the beef help me run faster but the jersey provides extra the extra motivation I need to finish strong."

“I think that just about every producer has heard a presenter talk about the importance of sharing personal agriculture stories,” explained Thorne. “But, how many producers have actually done something to share their own story? I think it is vital for producers to begin responding, even if it’s in the simplest form. We need to stand up for our own industry, and stop letting someone else speak for us. All it takes is a simple letter to the editor or to visit with someone at the meat counter in your local grocery store. Take the time to speak up; your livelihood depends on it!”

Thanks, Calli and Daren for sharing your insights and experiences with Team ZIP. I hope these two will serve as an inspirational reminder for all of us to go out and tell our story with someone new. We have a fascinating story to tell; who are you going to connect with today?

Economist Says Technology and Research are Vital to Feeding the World's Growing Population

To feed a world population projected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050, technology that can enhance food production will be a significant asset, according to a Kansas State University agricultural economist.

Ted Schroeder, university distinguished professor of agricultural economics, said dramatically increased food prices around the world in recent years, social unrest over food scarcity in countries like Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Mozambique and many others, combined with a growing world population, are raising the question of what will it take to feed the world's population 40 years from now. He spoke on the topic March 5, 2010 at K-State's Cattlemen's Day.

Schroeder said that technology isn't a magic wand to make these problems disappear, but it can contribute significantly to increasing food production. He cites how Iowa's corn yields sped past Italy's when Iowa farmers embraced yield-enhancing, genetically modified corn varieties that have been shunned by Italy and much of the European Union.

To read the entire article, link here.

Muscle and Marbling Development in Beef Cattle

Over the past two months, between bull sales and carcass ultrasounding registered cattle, I have had several conversations regarding ribeye area (REA) and marbling estimates in cattle. For those seedstock operations concerned with this year's measurements, or those noticing year to year variation in group averages for carcass traits, I encourage everyone to not only evaluate weather, range conditions and management from birth to 12 months of age, but more importantly, what were the conditions in the fall prior to that calf's birth? Nutrition and management of the cow herd during pregnancy can potentially influence muscle development as well as marbling in the yearling animal, whether it's a yearling bull, replacement heifer or feedlot steer.

Research conducted during the last two to three years has improved our understanding on how muscle and adipose (fat) is developed in beef cattle. One of the leading muscle biologists in this field is Dr. Min Du – a professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Wyoming. One of the unique aspects of his research is that we can directly apply much of this information to both managing our beef herds, as well as using the research results to help explain some of the year to year variation in carcass characteristics that challenge our industry.

To read the entire article, link here.

DOJ/USDA Workshops An Opportunity for Co-ops to Tell Their Story

Last week’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joint workshop on competition in agriculture set the stage for farmer-owned co-ops to show how they promote a more competitive agricultural sector, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) said.

"Family farmers across America have built farmer cooperatives that promote competition, bolster farm income and the rural economy, and help to bring transparency to the marketplace," said NCFC President Chuck Conner. "While farmer cooperatives were touched on only briefly in this workshop, I hope that DOJ and USDA will use the future workshops to look more closely at how producers can use co-ops as a tool to level the playing field.

"In addition, we continue to be concerned about rhetoric from some that equates being large in size with stifling competition. A large farmer co-op simply has more member-owners--many of whom have medium to small-sized operations--than a smaller cooperative," Conner continued. "At the same time, the statement made by Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division, that 'with [being] big comes a lot of responsibility' is true and a standard that, we believe, large farmer co-ops in this country meet."

Today's workshop focused on competition issues for crop farmers, especially the issues of seed technology and livestock marketing. As the first of the workshops to be held this year, it also served as the kickoff event, and featured Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack making opening comments. Attendees also heard from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge (D), Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, and Iowa Secretary for Agriculture Bill Northey. Future workshops will focus on the poultry, dairy and livestock industry.

About NCFC

Since 1929, NCFC has been the voice of America's farmer cooperatives. Our members are regional and national farmer cooperatives, which are in turn composed of nearly 3,000 local farmer cooperatives across the country. NCFC members also include 26 state and regional councils of cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives allow individual farmers the ability to own and lead organizations that are essential for continued competitiveness in both the domestic and international markets.

America's farmer-owned cooperatives provide a comprehensive array of services for their members. These diverse organizations handle, process and market virtually every type of agricultural commodity. They also provide farmers with access to infrastructure necessary to manufacture, distribute and sell a variety of farm inputs. Additionally, they provide credit and related financial services, including export financing.

National Ag Week

Each year, on the first day of spring, the country celebrates National Ag Day. The theme for National Ag Day, which will be celebrated on March 20, is “American Agriculture: Abundant. Affordable. AMAZING.”

Ag Day was created to recognize - and celebrate - the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives. During National Ag Week, March 14-20, 2010, activities are held across the nation to educate all Americans, particularly young people, of the importance of American agriculture. Other high-profile events are held in Washington, D.C., to highlight agriculture's impact among legislators and other leaders.

The Agriculture Council of America (ACA) hosts the annual nationwide event to recognize agriculture's contributions to America's economy and culture. ACA expresses its gratitude for John Deere's continued support and dedication to promoting the bounty and importance of American agriculture by being a premier sponsor.

To read the entire article, link here.

Economic Recovery Slow, But In The Right Direction

“The livestock sector can lead the agricultural economy to higher net farm income, assuming the farm economy benefits from a recovering general U.S. economy,” say analysts with the University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (MU FAPRI).

In fact, according to the organization’s recent 10-year agricultural baseline projections, they anticipate net farm income to increase over the next two years, largely because of stronger livestock prices.

“If jobs and consumers return, the agricultural sector will benefit,” says Pat Westhoff, MU FAPRI co-director. “Higher incomes increase the demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel, supporting farm commodity prices.”

For perspective, Westhoff explains net farm income plummeted more that $30 billion in 2009 as modest declines in production costs were overwhelmed by sharp declines in cash receipts. UM FAPRI analysts project net farm income to recover about a third of the ground lost last year.

As consumers worldwide continue extricating themselves from the financial wreckage left by the recession, goliath-sized question marks loom about how fast the recovery can be.

“The recovery is going to take quite some time to bring us back to where we really want to be,” explains Larry DeBoer, Purdue University ag economist. “We should probably expect a slow decline in the unemployment rate and probably slow growth rates of gross domestic product."

DeBoer says U.S. consumer spending is being held back by the 10% unemployment rate. The economy grew 5.9% in the fourth quarter of 2009, but economists question whether that growth rate can be sustained.

“Even at 5.9%, the unemployment rate would only come down from about 10% to about 8.5% by the end of the year,” DeBoer says. “This tells me we have at best three or four years before we get unemployment back down to 5% where it was at the beginning of the recession.”

Incidentally, with a 10% unemployment rate and little threat of inflation, DeBoer says it's unlikely the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates soon. However, he adds that farmland assessments are likely to increase in the near future because the formula to assess farmland value takes into account commodity prices with a four-year lag.

Reflecting on the recent surge in wholesale beef prices, John Michael Riley, Mississippi State University Extension ag economist, pointed out last week that the recent rally in the wholesale beef market appears to be mostly a supply-driven phenomenon at this point. Since the first week of February, beef production has been consistently lower than year-earlier levels, suppressed largely by the impact of very poor weather that has sharply reduced cattle weights and, in some weeks, made delivery of market-ready cattle difficult. So, while the supply side of the market has been definitely supportive of prices, the impact of the demand side has been less clear, he says.”

As the economy recovers, beef demand should strengthen, says Scott Brown, FAPRI livestock economist. This, combined with tight beef supplies for the next few years, can return profits to the beef industry.

Moisture Grows Chance To Add Legumes

Although widespread moisture this winter created unfamiliar challenges for folks in some parts of the country, another benefit of the extraordinary wet spell is the chance to add legumes to pastures this spring.

“One of the challenges to successfully adding legumes to grass sod is getting the seed into the soil,” explains Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist. “Frost seeding by broadcasting seed onto the sod has not been very successful in Nebraska, so I recommend using a drill whenever possible. Finding a suitable no-till drill to cut through the sod often is difficult, however. And regular grain drills often aren’t heavy or strong enough to do the job.”

But this spring might be different, he adds, as the ground is soft from the winter moisture and recent rain. “And it looks like it might stay that way for awhile. So your regular grain drill just might be able to cut through that soft sod, placing your legume seeds directly in contact with the moist mineral soil, nice and shallow, about ¼-in. deep.”

In his part of the world, Anderson recommends getting legumes planted within the next four weeks. “You probably also need to add 20-40 lbs./acre of phosphorus to enhance legume seedling vigor,” he says. “Adding some directly to the seed or banding right above the seed often is best; broadcasting also works well."

Boosting Gains With Worm AND Horn Fly Control

Controlling horn flies makes economic sense. Managing the load of internal parasites in cattle can boost returns. Combined, these two practices yield even more.

That’s the bottom line of a study conducted at Louisiana State University (LSU). Researchers there released the results last month.

The study looked at growing cattle on bermudagrass pasture. There were three annual trials from May to August – 56 calves in each trial – split into four treatment groups: untreated control (CON), cattle treated for horn flies with insecticidal ear tags (HF); calves treated for gastrointestinal nematodes (GN) with an anthelmintic; and cattle treated for both (HF-GN).

You can see the specific results in the table below, and you can find the entire study here.

The bottom line was that treating cattle for both horn flies and internal parasites resulted in significant weight gains of about 29 lbs. average – the length of each trial ranged from 84 to 112 days. Compare those 29 lbs. to the $6.75/head treatment cost, excluding labor.

By way of comparison, when compared to the control group, neither the HF calves nor the GN calves yielded statistically significant weight advantage compared to the control group.

LSU researchers suspect three possible causes for the lack of effect in controlling horn flies alone: the level of fly control achieved in the treated group was marginal; the overall horn fly population was beneath the economic threshold in one trial and barely above it in another; and the magnitude of weight gain of all stockers in the study was relatively low.

Similarly, researchers attribute the overall low gain levels to the lack of significant weight gain observed in the GN calves compared to the control group.

Tables for LSU Stocker Trials

Trial 1

Control 564 0.82 632
Horn Fly (HF) 558 0.80 623
GI Nematode (GN) 558 1.01 642
HF-GN 559 1.11 650

Trial 2
Treatment In-wt.
Control 564 0.76 639
Horn Fly (HF) 560 1.05 663
GI Nematode (GN) 562 1.28 688
HF-GN 559 1.11 650

Trial 3
Treatment In-wt.
Control 559 0.99 669
Horn Fly (HF) 559 0.98 669
GI Nematode (GN) 560 1.03 675
HF-GN 559 1.10 682

Tables from: Evaluation of Horn Flies and Internal Parasites with Growing Beef Cattle Grazing Bermudagrass Pastures by S.M. DeRouen, et. al, Louisiana State University.