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Articles from 2003 In April

A call for more CRP freedom

Joe Ranney had a dilemma last summer. In his area of western Iowa, this grain farmer had nearly 130 acres enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Meanwhile, farther west, beef producers were locked in one of the worst droughts on record and were desperate for feed to maintain their herds on the land.

Ranney wanted to help. He looked into donating some of the forage off his CRP acreage in Pottawattamie County, IA, to the feed-short cowmen of western Nebraska. He found it wasn't easy to do.

USDA rules stipulate that CRP acres can be released for emergency haying and grazing only after that county has received a disaster declaration. To utilize CRP acreage without federal permission carries some stiff financial penalties.

Ranney says he checked with various USDA offices about how to make such a contribution. No luck. He tried a number of House and Senate offices. Still no luck.

Finally, in late October, his own county was declared a disaster area, which released his CRP land for haying and grazing. So he had the hay cut, baled and delivered to Nebraska in December, with the recipient picking up the cost. But by then, Ranney says the four-month delay in harvest had cut the feed value considerably.

All the hoops, however, set Ranney to pondering a solution. The answer he came up with was this:

He wants to enlist the help of other agriculturalists in petitioning Congress to amend the CRP legislation to allow “all CRP land, anywhere,” to be released for emergency haying and grazing when any area in the U.S. is declared a disaster area.

To keep the program above board, Ranney suggests that USDA and local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices be the facilitators. After all, these agencies already have the infrastructure in place to administer such a broad-based program.

Prospective contributors of CRP forage could sign up at their local FSA offices early in the growing season, he says. Once a disaster designation was made, USDA would match the donors with the recipients. It would be up to the recipients to cover the harvest and shipping costs.

What Ranney calls a “government-farm-ranch volunteers' insurance partnership” isn't one, however, that most commercial forage growers would likely find appealing. For one thing, there would be concern about the disruption such a change could cause in the marketplace, particularly in demand for the lower-quality forage — the stuff that commercial forage producers typically have the hardest time moving.

In addition, commercial growers have long voiced their perception that disaster designations are awarded too easily as it is. There's no better way for elected officials to demonstrate their responsiveness to constituencies than delivering federal help in time of hardship, but what would the availability of forage off CRP acres across the U.S. do to the commercial hay markets?

Ranney says his concept is in no way designed to replace commercial hay producers. He's interested in providing “a partial supplementary support system” that would buy time for drought-stricken producers faced with culling herds or closing their operations.

“It could help stabilize producer hay costs and, with cost averaging, make it possible to buy enough extra in the commercial market to allow producers to maintain herds without bankruptcy or herd reductions. The total amount of assistance to any producer in need should be limited accordingly,” Ranney says.

He also says that, under his plan, the customary constraints on emergency haying and grazing of CRP acreage would still apply. For instance, the amount of harvestable forage would still be limited to 50% on any parcel. And any harvesting would be postponed until after the critical habitat periods of wildlife.

Ranney recommends that producers in favor of the idea of producers helping fellow producers write their congressional representatives and encourage them to consider it. For more information, contact Ranney at 712/328-1087 or [email protected]

It's Time To Factor Worming

Go on believing that internal parasites gobbled up in pastures can be managed by simply deworming the cows, or that cattle are parasite-acceptable as long as they look healthy. Jim Ricard of Palestine, TX, knows better.

For years, this commercial cow/calf producer spot-wormed the cows on his ranch. He considered deworming the calves while they were on the cows, but never did until three years ago. Since then, his weaning weights have skyrocketed 130 lbs. and he attributes it to controlling internal parasites in the nursing calves.

“The Texas Beef Partnership in Extension Program (Beef PEP) opened my eyes to how much of a factor worming is. You can see a fat cow or a fat calf, and they can be eaten up with worms but you don't know they're there,” Ricard says.

Ricard began deworming his cows twice a year, but he also began deworming winter and spring-born calves the first part of May when they were worked and vaccinated.

“On a 250-lb. calf, it costs us 34¢/cwt. to worm them, which puts an extra 25-50 lbs. of weaning weight on them. Regardless of the product you use, it's too cheap not to do it. It pays for itself,” Ricard says.

Indeed. Steve Wikse, DVM, an associate professor of large animal medicine at Texas A&M University (TAMU) College of Veterinary Medicine, and the creator of Beef PEP, says 10 field trials in Texas peg weaning weight gains from deworming suckling calves at an average of 0.1-0.2 lbs./day.

Likewise, Dee Whittier, DVM, MS, a University of Virginia professor of large animal clinical sciences, says, “We've done 15 trials in Virginia and have always gotten enough of an increase in weaning weight to make it profitable, some years as much as 50 lbs.” On average, he explains gains in weaning weight due to deworming nursing calves run about 20 lbs. across all the trials. Or about a 1.3-lb. average per day from deworming to weaning.

Further west, Bill Kvasnicka, DVM, a University of Nevada (UN) Extension veterinarian, says they've found similar results. That's despite the common perception, until a decade ago, that internal parasites were few and far between in the West. In fact, in one UN trial, strategic deworming cost $6.60/head and returned an extra 40 lbs. of weaning weight.

While results vary be year and location, Wikse emphasizes, “This is a mighty profitable management practice, and it's time to implement it across more of the industry.”

Better Response All Around

The logic of deworming calves while they're still on their mamas makes sense when you understand how worms steal performance.

In this case, as in most industry discussions, the focus is Ostertagia ostertagi (brown stomach worm), which are prevalent throughout the U.S. According to veterinarians, Ostertagia account for a majority of the damage associated with internal parasites in cattle.

Ostertagia embed themselves in the abomasa of cattle, irritating cells that line the gastric glands and inducing added production of enzymes that suppress appetite. They also interfere with protein metabolism so that less protein is available for antibody production.

Thus, cattle infected with Ostertagia don't consume as much, utilize fewer of the nutrients they do consume, and their immune response is impaired.

Wikse says parasitologists estimate 75% of all losses due to Ostertagia come in the form of production losses, be it reduced fertility or reduced weight gain, etc. They also estimate 70% of the reduced rate of gain occurs because of appetite suppression.

“In the past, we thought if there was enough grass, there was enough to feed the cattle and the parasites, too,” Wikse says. Finally understanding the impact on appetite, he adds, “Now it stands to reason you probably get the most benefit out of deworming when nutrition is the most abundant.”

Moreover, while all cattle are susceptible to the ravages of Ostertagia and other nematodes (parasitic worms), calves are at the highest risk.

“These are the first parasites calves see, and they have absolutely no resistance to them,” Whittier says.

Wherever there's green, growing grass, especially in permanent pastures, odds are that Ostertagia and other nematodes are present. As soon as calves are old enough to start nibbling off the ground, they begin ingesting worms in one form or another.

Cattle build resistance through exposure, but Wikse says it takes two grazing seasons to develop significant immunity. That's why the veterinarians mentioned here also recommend deworming yearlings and first-calf heifers.

Strategic Worming

That's also why these veterinarians aim for strategic internal parasite control, concentrating on both reducing pasture contamination to prevent future infection while ridding cattle of the internal parasites.

“It's the calves from one year that are contaminating the pasture for the next year,” Whittier explains.

While weather and geography again impact prevalence, Whittier says a Virginia Tech study indicates at least 95% of parasite shedding in Virginia cow-calf pastures comes from the calves. “The calves are the major contaminators in the pasture. If you can deworm them as they're getting contaminated, you can keep pasture contamination at a lower level,” he says.

Basically, it goes like this, according to Wikse: Ostertagia can survive as arrested larvae in the abomasa of cattle during the long, hot summers of the South, and during the long, cold winters of the North. Larvae can survive in fecal matter and are released during autumn rains in the South and during spring rains in the North.

On both counts, cattle are exposed to the greatest number of Ostertagia during the rapid growth of cool-season forages, meaning cattle typically receive the most exposure during the spring (March through mid-May).

“Treat cattle when the greatest proportion of the total parasite population is in the cattle and not on the ground,” Wikse advises.

In other words, reducing pasture contamination means deworming calves in the spring.

Whether or not deworming should be routine or based upon an indication of parasite activity is a point of debate.

“I think deworming nursing calves needs to be a standard management practice,” Whittier says. “I think if you wait to see if the fecal egg counts are high, you're too late.”

Collect fecal samples on enough cattle (at least 10-15 head out of 100), and you get an idea how many eggs/gram are present. But that's all you get.

“There is not a good correlation between the number of eggs/gram in a fecal sample and the number of adult worms laying eggs. Plus, the sample measures the prevalence of eggs on the day the sample was taken,” Wikse explains. As the growing season continues, egg counts increase.

Consequently, Kvasnicka believes there is no numeric threshold. If any eggs are present, he says calves should be dewormed. Both Wikse and Whittier agree the safe money is to go ahead and deworm and not worry about the tests.

“One out of 10 or 15 years here, it may be dry enough that you won't get a benefit from deworming; you just account for the cost of that year in all of the others years you do get a benefit,” says Whittier.

That isn't to say fecal egg counts offer no benefit. But rather than rely on them as an indicator of whether or not to worm, Kvasnicka believes a better use is as a barometer of deworming effectiveness and to indicate timing for follow-up treatments.

Kvasnicka says fecal testing costs about $4/sample, but some vendors of deworming products provide testing as a free service.

Of course, there are other indicators producers can use that don't cost more than a little brain sweat. For example, Kvasnicka points out, “Look at the history of the pasture. If it's a permanent pasture, you have to assume it's contaminated.” Conversely, breaking up manure pats by haying pastures or by plowing them up and re-seeding helps reduce contamination.

On the other hand, other pasture management practices can increase the problem. For instance, Kvasnicka explains, “There is a common misconception that pasture rotation and intensive grazing is a way to help manage internal parasites. In reality, it contributes to the problem.”

Product Selection And Timing

If producers want to manage internal parasites strategically, Kvasnicka emphasizes, “You have to use a dewormer that effectively stops egg shedding, one that kills both adults and larvae.”

In the world of anthelmintics (dewormers), Kvasnicka points out that what are termed Class II products act against both adults and larvae. Among those, there are varying degrees of persistent killing power.

“It's important for producers to understand label claims and how to use the products correctly,” Kvasnicka says. “It's extremely important to deal with a veterinarian or parasitologist, know the direct timing of the product and what persistent killing activity in that product means.”

Finally, strategic deworming also demands understanding the parasite challenge by class of cattle. For instance, Whittier explains, “It may well be different in other states, but in Virginia we've never been able to demonstrate an advantage to deworming mature cows.” So, they concentrate on the calves.

In East Texas, on the other hand, Ricard says, “With our wet climate (32-44 in./year) we have a worm-growing paradise. If you worm the cow, too, you know she's doing the best she can for you. If you don't worm her, you don't know.” He's seen an extra kick to weaning weights because of deworming his cows, along with the calves.

Whatever the strategy, Whittier believes you need to deworm the entire group of calves. Doing otherwise is akin to bailing water from a rowboat without fixing the hole in it.

One reason deworming suckling calves is still an industry exception rather than a rule boils down to time and the cost of it.

“Sometimes we want to do everything at a time that's convenient, rather than at a time that's cost-effective,” Kvasnicka says. Depending on where you live, that can mean deworming calves at a time when it's too early to preg-check cows or too late to vaccinate calves, he says.

At the Jim Ricard Ranch, they've figured out how to bundle deworming with other scheduled management practices so they don't have to gather cattle an extra time. Even if that's what it meant, though, the results mean they still would. “We've done it and we've become a believer in it,” Ricard says.

For more information on the Texas Beef PEP, see “PEPing Up Profits,” pg. 42, February 2002, BEEF.

Will Deworming My Calves Pay?

While there are exceptions to every rule, Steve Wikse, DVM, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University says deworming nursing calves, — with the appropriate product at the appropriate time — will likely return net benefit to cow/calf producers if any of these conditions exist:

  • You're dissatisfied with current weaning weights.

  • Calves exhibit clinical signs of parasitism.

  • You run calves on permanent pastures.

  • You run an intensive rotational grazing system.

  • If fecal sampling is done and eggs are present in the fecal sample. (Wikse and other veterinarians recommend deworming all calves without fecal testing.)

Strategic Deworming Considerations

  • When does the grazing season (grass growth) start and end?

  • Will pasture rotation occur or will cattle be moved from pastures to grazing land (from private land to grazing allotments, as an example)?

  • What is the stocking rate?

  • Are the pastures or meadows irrigated?

  • What class of cattle will be grazing the pasture or range?

  • What type of dewormer will be used and when should that deworming product be administered?

  • What is the efficacy of the dewormer against the common nematodes (parasitic worms)?

  • What is the dose, method of administration and duration action of the dewormer chosen?

  • What are the cost of the dewormer and the cost of administering the medication?

Source: Bill Kvasnicka, DVM, University of Nevada

Checkoff Goes To Court

The question of the constitutionality of the national beef checkoff moved one step closer to resolution in early March. On March 10, attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, MN.

On one side, two attorneys — Doug Letter, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney representing USDA, and John Roberts, representing the Nebraska Cattlemen and two South Dakota producers — argued that the checkoff program is government speech. Making that case is critical in countering the opposition's contention that the checkoff is not government speech, and thus compelling producers to participate is a violation of the Constitution's First Amendment guarantees of rights to free speech and association.

Letter argued that the beef checkoff program is government speech because the mandatory beef checkoff is a federal program enacted by Congress and administered by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. In addition to making and revoking appointments to the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) — the 100-member body of checkoff payers that decides on the allocation of checkoff funds and program direction — the Secretary of Agriculture also gives final approval to all CBB checkoff expenditures, as well as approving the content of promotion and advertising campaigns funded through the checkoff.

During the proceedings, the beef checkoff program was likened to a government recruitment campaign such as “Join the Navy and see the world.” Pacifists who disagree with the campaign can't file First Amendment challenges against it. In such a scenario, violation of First Amendment rights would only occur if the government forced citizens to display campaign posters or stickers on their personal property.

Meanwhile, Philip Olsson, the attorney representing the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, argued that the proposal for a mandatory checkoff program originated from the beef industry. And while USDA does oversee the program, Olsson characterized his opposition's government speech contention as “trying to turn a kiss into a proposal of marriage.”

Olsson argued that, while the beef checkoff is a sanctioned government program and USDA does sign off on program specifics, USDA's role is more of a rubber stamp. The pro-checkoff attorneys countered that, in fact, a USDA representative attends checkoff meetings. And, in the past, the USDA Secretary has removed members from the CBB for substandard performance and denied at least one beef promotion campaign submitted by the CBB for final USDA approval.

Following presentation of the oral arguments, Monte Reese, CBB's chief operating officer, told BEEF magazine that he was pleased with the morning's proceedings and “cautiously optimistic” that the judges would find in favor of USDA and the checkoff.

“Fundamentally, if the checkoff program isn't overseen by the federal government, then why did LMA sue USDA?” Reese asked. “This is a producer-funded program made mandatory through an act of Congress and supervised by USDA. The very first budget, the very first project the Operating Committee agreed to fund, the very first contract we entered into to, USDA had to approve all of them and everything since. You can't have a mandatory assessment funding a program without the authority of the federal government backing it up. And you're not going to get that authority without governmental oversight.”

The St. Paul proceedings are the latest action in the appeal of a ruling made last July in South Dakota by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Kornmann. Kornmann ruled the beef checkoff was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and enjoined the CBB from further collections. However, a stay was granted a few days later and collections have continued.

Checkoff opponents are against the checkoff's generic promotion of beef, which doesn't differentiate between domestically produced beef and imports. They say producers shouldn't be forced to pay into the program, citing freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment. Checkoff proponents, of course, argue that the beef checkoff is government speech and thus doesn't fall under the First Amendment.

A ruling on this latest court proceedings in St. Paul isn't expected for two to six months, Reese says. Following that, it's likely the loser will appeal the verdict. Final resolution is expected to take place at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which could be a few years away.

Mexico is top buyer of U.S. beef

Mexico overtook Japan in 2002 to become the number-one volume destination for U.S. beef and variety meat exports. Mexico's assumption is attributed to U.S. beef marketing efforts, as well as a drop in Japanese beef consumption following the September 2001 discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Japan's domestic herd in.

U.S. beef exports to Mexico set a record for the sixth successive year as a total of 349,900 mt of U.S. beef and beef variety meats moved from the U.S. to its southern neighbor. The 2002 figure represents a 12% jump in volume over 2001 and a total value of $854.3 million.

Still, Japan remains the largest market for the U.S. beef industry in value terms and is expected to reclaim its top U.S. beef export position in 2003.

Worldwide, the U.S. beef industry exported 1,233,497 mt of beef and beef variety meats in 2002, a volume only previously exceeded in 2000 and 2001.

A major U.S. food service distributor has inked a pact with irradiation technology company SureBeam. The deal makes Performance Food Group (PFG) of Richmond, VA, the first major food service distributor to market a strategic brand of irradiated ground beef products to food service operators on the East Coast and in the Southwest and Midwest.

Initially, PFG will launch a line of 10 products under its West Creek brand with the Smart Shield Assurance stamp of approval. The line will include 100% pure ground beef patties, 100% USDA Black Angus ground beef patties and 100% pure bulk ground beef.

PFG markets and distributes more than 61,000 national and private label food and food-related products to 46,000 customers in the hotel, restaurant and institutional trade.

Western sage grouse doesn't get listing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied a petition to list the Western sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). FWS found the petition lacked sufficient evidence to show the Western population of sage grouse is a valid subspecies or a distinct population segment.

The Institute for Wildlife Protection, Eugene, OR, petitioned FWS for listing of the bird in northern California, Oregon and Washington and parts of Idaho. Currently, several sub-species of sage grouse can be found in 11 states.

Listing opponents maintained that most Western states, through their respective wildlife agencies, are already developing or have sage grouse management plans. Thus, they say, adequate protection is already being provided without inhibiting or restricting current land use activities.

Sage grouse depend on sagebrush most of the year for roosting cover and food, relying on it almost entirely for food in the winter.

USDA Livestock Compensation Program (LCP) signup began April 1. It's scheduled to end in June.

Information is available at local Farm Service Agency offices, as well as a USDA Web site — The site provides one location for program details, questions and answers, and allows for comments and suggestions on program implementation, as well as other information on USDA assistance.

To be eligible for LCP assistance, a producer's livestock operation headquarters must be physically located in a county with a qualifying disaster designation. Eligible livestock are cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo and catfish. Counties named as contiguous counties are not eligible for the program. LCP payments will be based on losses per head or number of eligible livestock and catfish.

The beef industry is on pace to meet its 2004 beef demand goal. Halfway into its 2001-2004 long-range plan, the beef industry is slightly more than halfway to its goal of raising beef demand by 6%. Dee Lacey, a California beef producer and chairman of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, says the +3% performance is particularly impressive in that it coincides with a time of record-high beef supplies, a struggling domestic economy and a weaker export market.

Lacey says demand for beef, a measure that accounts for both per-capita consumption and consumer spending for beef, has increased more than 3% since 2000, and nearly 10% since its low in 1998.

Creekstone Farms Premium Beef (CFPB) LLC has a new head. Bill Fielding, a 24-year meat industry veteran, has joined the Louisville, KY,-based, privately held producer and marketer of Creekstone Farms Premium Black Angus Beef as executive vice president and COO. Previously, Fielding has served in executive positions with Farmland Industries, the American Meat Institute, ConAgra, Cargill and Excel.

In January, Creekstone Farms purchased the former facilities of Future Beef Operations in Arkansas City, AR. In purchasing the $100-million processing plant, CFPB said it planned to significantly expand its value-added products business over the coming 18 months with deli and innovative entree products.

CFPB's fresh beef products are distributed throughout the U.S. and in Asia. Customers of fresh and fully cooked products include regional and national restaurant chain accounts, regional and national retail grocery chains, food service purveyors and distributors, convenience stores, club stores and retail distributors.

Wipe Away Weeds

Need to spray pastures, but it's too windy, or you're worried about damage to clovers or other legumes? Weed wiping may be your most cost-effective answer, says Jim Johnson, Noble Foundation, Ardmore, OK.

“If you can graze desirable forages so that weeds are 6 in. taller than the forages, a weed wiper will work for you,” he says.

Wiper or wick applicators are common in the Midwest to control volunteer corn in soybean fields. It involves supplying herbicide solution to an absorbent surface that, when passed over the field, wipes herbicide on any weeds taller than the crop.

What's needed, says Johnson, is a surface that holds solution without dripping, a way to prime the surface, a way to mount the unit so height can be adjusted, and weeds taller than the desirable plants.

In one version, a pipe with small holes in the bottom is covered with an absorbent canvas. The pipe, filled with herbicide solution, is mounted horizontally on a vehicle so it rides above the crop but will contact the weeds. In use, the covering wicks the herbicide out of the pipe through the small holes and applies chemical to weeds as the unit passes over them.

In the most basic unit, the pipe is used as the reservoir for the herbicide. A throttling valve is used to regulate the amount and rate of air inside the pipe.

Other models connect the pipe to a tank with a pump that's turned on and off as needed to prime the wiper. Better models mount a hooded spray boom above the wiping surface to wet it as needed. Rather than canvas, some wick applicators use braided cotton rope plumbed into a pipe. Rope sections are 8 in. long and overlap.

“Many times it's necessary to wipe weeds from opposite directions to get thorough coverage,” Johnson says. “But, better models with hooded booms use a counter-rotating drum, which improves coverage and eliminates the need.”

Some units are mounted on the front of a four-wheeler. Others are pulled behind like a cart with wheels on the ends. Mounting the unit to the front of a loader makes it easy to adjust height on the go, Johnson adds.

He says one benefit to wiper applicators is that the use of Roundup (glyphosate) allows control of almost any weed in any crop as long as weeds are taller than the crop. An excellent example is johnsongrass control in bermudagrass hay. Using generic glyphosate, weed control can be done for less than $1/acre for medium weed density.

“With a properly adjusted wiper, herbicide is only applied to the weeds. This reduces the amount of herbicide used per acre and introduced into the environment and reduces or eliminates damage to non-target species,” Johnson says.

Plus, wipers eliminate wind as a factor. And, herbicides with 2,4-D, pichloram, dicamba or triclopyr can also be used to increase control of tougher perennials like horse nettle, briars and tree sprouts.

“You can purchase wipers or wicks fully assembled, as kits you put together or build one completely from scratch. They can be small hand-held units or as large as 45 feet,” Johnson says.
— Noble Foundation, Ardmore, OK;; 580/224-6379l

Brazil, 33 years later

In early February, my wife and I accompanied a farm and ranch tour of Brazil sponsored by BEEF and The Corn And Soybean Digest (formerly Soybean Digest) magazines. My bride and I had lived in Brazil in 1970 while serving with a Ford Foundation technical assistance program to the Sao Paulo Institute of Agriculture, and were intrigued to see how Brazil had changed in 33 years.

The recent tour was targeted at two Brazilian “frontier” states we visited in 1970. Here are some of the changes we observed in those frontier areas. First, some background:

The largest country in South America, Brazil occupies almost half that continent, and is the world's fifth largest country. Brazil has a population of 175 million people but there are areas, such as the Amazon, that are scarcely populated. Portuguese is the native language but English is common in Brazil's hotels, restaurants and shops.

Our February tour took us to the southwest Brazilian states of Motto Grosso and South Moto Grosso. Back in 1970, these two states were one state — Moto Grosso do Sul.

The government's economic strategy in the 1960s was to develop Moto Grosso by building a road into the frontier in order to promote settlement. The aproach was “develop a road into the Frontier and the people will come.” In 1970, we drove to the end of that road to get a firsthand view. In fact, we drove two cars so that if one broke down, we'd have another to get home as there were no services in the area.

As we drove this road in 1970, we passed tens of thousands of acres of grassland and shrub trees. Now and then, we'd see a herd of cattle. Since that road was the only transportation venue, we even ran into a large herd of cattle being trailed down the road to a market collection point. There, they were loaded onto trucks and shipped 400-500 miles east to Sao Paulo for harvesting.

Our visit 33 years later indicates the government's development plan worked. Our February visit found a modern Moto Grosso frontier city now in place. What a difference 33 years made!

  • Brazil is a tropical region extending south from the equator into more temperate regions. In the area we visited in February, farmers crop year round. A summer crop is grown in the “wet” season, followed by a winter crop in the “dry” season. All the farms we visited double-crop soybeans and corn. The soybeans go on the world market.

    While Brazil's reputation is that of a major coffee and sugar producer, it's clearly evolved into a modern soybean-producing country. It has highly fertile soils, yearlong growing seasons, uses U.S.-style chemical programs and modern machinery, and, according to officials, doesn't use biotech soybeans.

    According to a machinery dealer with whom we visited, the biggest, most common tractor sold was a 165-hp tractor, with a 185-hp tractor promised next year. This dealer sells about 200 tractors/year.

  • Cattle aren't a major industry today but Brazil's 160 million cattle — 45% more than the combined U.S. and Canadian dairy and beef herds — do get your attention. The state of Moto Grosso alone has 18.6 million head. Figure 1 shows Brazil's ranking in all-cattle numbers compared to Europe and the U.S.

    I have to share a point with you relating to cattle numbers. In 1970, we were convinced that Brazil really did not know how many cattle were in its country. At that time, Brazil did not have an agricultural census like we did in the U.S. We joked then that cattle numbers, for some unknown reason, seemed to parallel the human population number. Could that have been an easy way to approximate a cattle count? Thirty-three years later and Brazil has a human population of 170 million people and a cattle population of 160 (some figures state 170) million cattle. I wonder….

  • In 1970, it was common for feeder cattle in Brazil to be on grass for more than three years, gaining weight during the wet season and losing weight during the dry season. Hopefully, animals gained more in the wet season than they lost in the dry season, finally reaching the age to be harvested. Traditional breeds were selected on their hide thickness and heat tolerance.

    Today, it's very different. One rancher showed us his 14-month-old crossbred feeders targeted for harvest at 17 months of age. His operation included a purebred Nelore herd (a Zebu-type: big-eared with a hump), and a crossbred Nelore/Charolais herd. His crossbred calves go to market at 17 months.

  • Both improved grasses and rotational grazing appear to be common management practices today. Brazilian researchers have imported and improved varieties that greatly out-perform native grasses. Some are bred to specifically perform in the wet season, others to specifically perform in the dry season, and still others to do reasonably well in both, thus providing year-around grazing.

  • The first rancher we visited was a soybean farmer now raising crossbred cattle. His crop rotation is no-till soybeans one year, followed by three years of cultivated grass. His pastures appeared to be intensively managed.

  • Insects and parasites are a problem. The lack of freezing temperatures means cattle must be treated for parasites up to four times/year.

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

Death Watch

A January cold spell in the snowless Upper Midwest has forage agronomists fearing the worst for alfalfa fields in much of that region.

“I suspect that we'll see a lot of winter damage, but I also suspect that we'll see some total winterkill,” says Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota Extension forage agronomist.

“I don't think we'll lose everything, but I think it's going to be quite a bit,” agrees Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist.

At greatest risk are older stands on poorly drained soils or any soils with low fertility, varieties with only moderate winterhardiness, and fields where a late harvest removed the insulating benefit of fall regrowth.

“Growers who took a late fall cutting will probably lose quite a bit of that acreage,” Undersander predicts.

Young stands are tough to kill. So fields seeded in 2002 may be okay, even if the fall regrowth was removed, he adds.

He says alfalfa winter damage begins when the soil temperature in the plants' crown area — the top 4 in. — drops below 15°. At Madison, WI, the 4-in.-deep soil temperature hit 8° during the January deep freeze.

That was under a bare soil surface. Under a similar surface in St. Paul, MN, the temperature dropped below 5° on three consecutive nights, Peterson reports. But under an adjacent grass sod it stayed well above 15°.

“The insulation effect of that sod was tremendous,” Peterson says. “But fall residue of alfalfa is not like a grass sod. My fear is that it might be closer to the bare soil.”

“The area we're most concerned about is northern Illinois, northeastern Iowa and all of Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Undersander says.

Some damage seems likely in South Dakota, too, says Vance Owens, forage research agronomist at South Dakota State University.

“I don't have any soil temperature data, but we've had a fairly open winter,” Owens says. “So I'm guessing we'll be facing some of the same situations in this state.”

In parts of North Dakota, soil temperatures dropped below the danger level in January, then again the last week of February, says agronomist Dwain Meyer at North Dakota State University.

“I expect significant winterkill in the Langdon and Minot areas, with the possibility around Fargo, Carrington, Williston and Hettinger, depending on age of stand and other factors,” he says.

Southern Michigan growers should watch for signs of winter injury at spring greenup, suggests Rich Leep, Michigan State University Extension agronomist.

The northern part of that state had snow cover during the January cold spell, but fields were mostly bare in the south.

“The key is to look at plants right away in the spring when they start to get some growth,” Leep says. “You should be able to tell if you've got some areas in the field where alfalfa isn't emerging like it should. Then you can cut into some crowns and tell whether or not they've got good tissue.”

If you need to know sooner, dig 6 in. deep into the frozen ground and remove a plant, Undersander suggests. Plant it in potted soil indoors. If it starts to send out shoots in 7-10 days, it's healthy. If regrowth is sparse, it's probably damaged.

Or, dig up a few plants and examine their roots. The roots of plants that died in January will be dehydrated. They'll be ropey, with brownish tissue inside. The insides of healthy roots are fleshy, like a potato.

Neil Tietz is editor of BEEF sister publication Hay & Forage Grower.

BIGGER & Fewer

When IBP some years ago got into the direct-to-packer business, it was the beginning of the end of central livestock markets and a spur to the ribs of beef industry consolidation. Today, consolidation is growing in every beef production segment to one extent or another, says Cattle-Fax specialist Mike Miller. But, he adds, the consolidation underway at retail and food service levels promises to have “a massive effect” on how cow-calf producers, stocker operators and feedlot owners do business in the future.

Miller predicts that five to seven retailers will control 70-75% of food sales in the next five years. The driver, of course, is Wal-Mart. The Fayetteville, AR,-based retailing behemoth's entry into the grocery business has piled a lot of pressure on retailers like Safeway and Kroger, Miller says.

“These firms are concerned because of how well Wal-Mart does what it does,” Miller says, and “that will lead to even more consolidation over time.”

Wal-Mart is shaking up the retail business with a whole new approach to retailing, Miller says. “Their goal ultimately is to be the low-cost provider in everything they do,” he adds.

Retailers become more efficient and effective when they work with fewer suppliers, Miller notes. It's an approach that Wal-Mart has relied on heavily to fuel its growth.

Not only are quality, consistency and new products important at the retail counter but, as food safety becomes more of a concern, retailers will want guarantees on quality.

“Right now, the retailer doesn't take the blame for any food safety problems,” Miller says. “They shift blame back to the packer and producer.

“But more will be expected out of everybody in the beef business. Retailers will continue to push their expectations down the line. Because there will be fewer of them, we will have to work with them in a positive way,” he says.

This same consolidation trend is occurring in the food service segment where firms are also increasingly moving toward single-source suppliers, Miller notes. “These firms will demand a consistent, high-quality product, delivered when they want it, from our industry,” he says.

An Industry Funnel

Here are Cattle-Fax analyst Mike Miller's views on consolidation's effects on beef's competition, and some of the interwoven concerns that the beef industry shares with its competitors:

Poultry — Twenty U.S. poultry firms now control 85% of all production from start to finish, Miller says. This segment is highly dependent on exports, as evidenced when Russia, which traditionally accounted for half of U.S. poultry exports, banned U.S. poultry imports in fall 2001. It resulted in nearly doubling the amount of poultry and chicken in storage here in the U.S., he says.

Hogs — Just 7% of hog producers make up 70% of all production today. That could grow to 80% in five to six years, Miller says, all driven by economics.

Dairy — Just 8% of dairy producers account for 50% of milk production.

Feedlots — Some 230-240 lots now market 70% of all fed cattle in the U.S., while the top 25 companies now feed 40% of all U.S. fed cattle. These firms are mostly located in the Southern Plains, while numbers continue to shrink in other areas of the country. Prodding the trend along will be new environmental rules that will particularly impact smaller feeding units, “probably to an unfair degree,” he adds.

A factor in the huge equity loss suffered by the feeding industry since 1998 is a 20% jump in feedlot capacity since 1990, he says.

“There is a lot of competition to keep that feeding capacity full,” Miller declares. “Our industry lost packer capacity, but kept building more bunk space. It's simple economics: if we try to keep all the lots full, we will have periods of problems.”

Cow-calf — The consolidation occurring in the cow-calf segment isn't as dramatic as in other segments, Miller says. Today, 35% of producers account for a third of all cows. “But if you look at [marketing] arrangements out there, it's probably closer to 40%,” Miller adds.

“The main point is that we will continue to have fewer producers. Those in the cow-calf industry will be no different than other segments over the course of time,” he says.

Packers — Concentrated in the Central Plains, near the center of U.S. cattle feeding, the top four U.S. packers harvest more than 80% of all steers and heifers. This geographic concentration, Miller warns, will impact the market over time, particularly in the Southeast and other cow-calf areas, because of transportation costs.

“Loss of packing capacity in feeding states like Idaho and Washington is a constant concern and worry,” Miller says.

Marketing Agreements — As consolidation continues, the percentage of fed cattle marketed under formula contract or alliances will increase, Miller notes. In 2002, more than 50% of all cattle marketed were under formula or alliance contracts. That could grow to more than 60% within a couple of years, he says. He advises producers to learn how these programs fit their individual marketing plans.

Beef Demand — The one encouraging factor for the beef industry has been beef demand growth. As bad as the market's been, it could have been much worse.

“If you hadn't made an investment in the late 1980s [with the beef checkoff] to develop a growth demand base for the industry,” he says, “we would have been selling cattle in the mid-$50s last summer rather than in the low to mid-$60s. That's what demand growth did for us.”

Global Market — With 97 million total head of cattle, the U.S. ranked fourth in the world in 2001, behind India, Brazil and China. Miller expects Brazil, with a total beef herd of more than 150 million head, to conquer its foot-and-mouth disease problems in the next four to six years and become a major player in providing lean, trimmed product to all parts of the world.

Miller's advice: “I don't believe we can compete with Brazil on that basis. We need to stick with what we do best — producing high-quality fed beef. That is our strong niche in the global market,” he says.

Top 5-7 retailers may control 70-75% of food sales in 5 years

What are the implications?

  • Single source suppliers
  • Just-in-time supply management
  • Inventory management
  • Consistency, quality, quantity

Profile of livestock and producer operations

Total number of producers/operators Number of large producers Large producers as % of total % of production from large producers
Broilers Top 20 85%
>2,000 head
98,460 7,125 7% 69%
>200 cows
105,250 8,005 8% 48%
Beef Feedlots
>1,000 head
104,471 2,071 2% 85%
Beef Cow/calf 804,000 28,000 3.5% 33%
>200 cows 72,891 9% 51%

Quack Addicts

Quack grass. It's the bane of northern U.S. crop farmers — an extremely competitive nuisance that also goes by the names of couch grass, quake grass, dog grass, creeping wheat grass and a lot worse. But Canadian Robert Krentz likes quack grass. In fact, he works hard to promote its growth on his Grunthal, Manitoba, grazing operation.

Krentz used to have forages like alfalfa, timothy and birds-foot trefoil, but he prefers the native grass — quack grass. He stopped fighting it in 1995 and has since encouraged it to take over.

“Quack grass can be managed, and it can provide a high quality, dependable forage supply,” Krentz says. “We've been averaging gains of 1.8 to 2.0 lbs./day. One group, in 2001, produced 333 lbs. of gain in 165 days of grazing. That's 2 lbs./day.”

While forage experts who work with Krentz say the system works well for him, they believe producers should look at more diversity in grazing forages.

“If you've got different grasses for different conditions, you're going to have a much more productive system, overall,” says Wally Happychuk. An agricultural representative with Manitoba Agriculture and Food at Vita, Manitoba, Happychuk has observed Krentz's changeover from the start, and is one of several government and university personnel who have studied the unique system.

“Krentz has a preference for quack grass, but some tame forages are excellent, too,” Happychuk says. “Tall fescue looks really promising, and orchard grass has been good, too.”

A “Feedlot” Grazing Style

Krentz buys feeder cattle in late winter/early spring at the Grunthal Livestock Auction Mart, which he co-owns. He organizes the cattle into groups, building nine “packages,” usually 600 feeders each, to build attractive buys later for buyers.

He maintains them for 4-6 weeks in pens on his farmyard. When the pasture is “up” in May, he turns them out to graze. By the time grazing season is done, he's already sold them to commercial feedlots and just sets up a delivery schedule.

This southeast corner of the Canadian Prairies often gets more than 20 in./season of rain. For the past few years, Krentz has had more rain than his pastures need.

A highly competitive nuisance grass, quack grass might normally be expected to stop growing by late June, and be followed by poor grazing at best. But Krentz says he's found a way around that. With high fertility and a rotational grazing system, plus lots of rainfall, his quack grass remains lush through mid-summer and into early October.

His only concern is that it might become root-bound, so he aerates once each summer to “break the root system and loosen the soil so it can produce a thicker matt of grass.”

Paying for 100-lbs./acre of nitrogen could cut sharply into Krentz's margin. But he gets it free, supplied at no charge by the owners of 43 new pig barns that have operations on those same pastures.

Each summer, about 10,000 gals./acre of liquid hog manure are top-dressed on the quack grass. His arrangement with the pig barn owner works like this:

Krentz sells a quarter-section where the barn is to be built, and provides a lifetime caveat to the owner for spreading rights on the other three quarters of the section. In return, Krentz obtains rights to all the manure the barn can produce for up to 49 years, plus access to the quarter he sold.

The first results in 1995 convinced Krentz he'd stumbled onto a good idea. He recalls, “We used to cut hay before we put yearlings on there, but it took 10 days of drying before I could bale that hay.”

A quack grass trial that year fertilized with hog manure gave him a baled return of 4½ tons/acre. That was better than he'd done with anything previously.

Krentz says the quack grass has 20% protein if cattle graze it at a young stage. But, he adds, the quack grass program wouldn't work if his cattle were free to graze without restrictions. To manage that, Krentz has each package of heifers or steers on its own section of pasture with eight separate paddocks.

Each herd orients itself around a central, fenced, watering system that serves all eight paddocks on the section. Each paddock has it's own gate into the watering area. Krentz also has built a fly-protection oiler on wheels, the width of the gate, for each watering area.

“Center is their home,” Krentz says. “When it's hot in mid-day, all the cattle are in the center by the water. Once they're inside, we hook onto the oiler with an ATV and move it when we want to change paddocks.”

After a few moves, the feeders become “well trained” to the system, Krentz says. The stocking rate is about 1 acre/animal.

Three Keys to Success

Happychuk points to three keys that make Krentz's production system work.

  • The ability to manage the risk in buying and selling is one key factor.

    “Krentz is totally aware of what the Canadian dollar exchange rate can do to him,” Happychuk says. “When that margin is tight, you've got to be careful about what you're doing. There's a limit to how much the grassing program will offset a loss. He's really good at buying right and selling right, and using futures contracts to hedge or lock in prices.”

  • Using hog manure as his fertilizer source is the second key.

    “He's getting growth from first thing in spring until well into October. The hog manure is giving him a tremendous boost. Forage crops like grasses love fertilizer. As good as it is already, we're estimating that somewhere along the line he'll be able to double his carrying capacity through proper use of hog manure and grasses.”

  • His rotational grazing skills are the third factor.

Happychuk says Krentz has great skill in paddock management. He recognizes when his cattle need to move to a new paddock, for the sake of the pasture, and has simplified the whole system, he says.

Karin Wittenburg, a University of Manitoba forage researcher, says it's not surprising that the stands on Krentz's farm now contain significant amounts of quack grass. After all, quack grass is extremely competitive and, no doubt, has responded well to the application of hog manure.

“Although quack grass can be high in quality when managed properly, it's for the most part less productive than other grass species,” she says.

Wittenberg is working with Manitoba Agriculture to examine the effects of hog manure on the nutrient profile (energy, protein, macro- and micro-minerals) of a wide range of grass and legume species. Hog manure provides a wider range of nutrients to the soil than most inorganic fertilizer treatments, she says.