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Forecasting The Cattle Market For The Rest Of The Decade

cattle prices forecasted out for the next decade

Ranchers are facing two tough questions. First, will the 2012 drought continue into 2013? Second, what kind of calf prices can we expect for the next few years?

As of late March, USDA’s winter weather summary concluded that above-normal winter precipitation had provided some limited relief to drought-stressed rangeland, pastures and winter wheat on the Plains. Winter precipitation also had benefited the upper Midwest, but subsoil moisture shortages still persisted across the nation’s midsection. In contrast, drought was mostly eliminated before or during winter in the eastern Corn Belt.

By the time you read this, most ranchers will have a good idea about their own region’s spring moisture in 2013.

In response to the second question, I will share my long-run price forecast for the beef cow sector. The foundation for this is USDA’s 2013 baseline projections, which the agency prepares for the coming 10-year period; the latest figures were published in February 2013.

This month, I’ll share some of that information, and present my own price projections for the beef cow sector. Next month, I’ll use these price projections to project the lifetime economic value of a pregnancy-checked heifer entering a beef cowherd.

The beef industry is heavily impacted by the corn industry. Figure 1 presents USDA’s baseline forecast for crop (soybeans, wheat and corn); the blue line is the baseline projection for annual U.S. corn prices. In general, annual corn prices are projected to fall from the 2012 high through 2014. Barring another national drought, annual corn prices should be in the $4-$5/bu. range, and gradually increase the rest of the decade.

corn and meat price projections

Figure 2 presents USDA’s baseline projections for red meat and poultry production. Beef production is projected to decline as a result of the 2011 and 2012 drought-induced drop in beef cow numbers. Due to fewer feeder cattle, 2013 and 2014 slaughter weights are expected to slowly increase.

Post-drought herds are projected to repopulate by the breeding of more heifers, which suggests even fewer feeder cattle will be available as ranchers build the national beef cowherd. Around 2016, USDA projects beef production to slowly increase into year 2021.

Figure 3 presents USDA’s baseline projections for annual slaughter steer prices. Projected slaughter prices for 2013 through 2015 are record-high. Prices are expected to dip slightly in 2016 through 2018, in response to the buildup of the national beef cowherd. The 2019-2021 prices are again projected to be at or near record levels.

USDA baseline cow projections

I used USDA’s baseline price projections to develop a set of long-run economic projections for beef cowherds. The net effect of the 2011 and 2012 droughts was lower beef cow numbers; that, in turn, increased calf prices.

Figure 4 presents my planning prices for 500- to 600-lb. steer calves. The 2013-2016 period is projected to produce record-high calf prices. Beef cow numbers are expected to increase going into 2018, pushing calf prices somewhat lower through 2018, followed by a gradual increase in prices through 2021. In summary, steer calf prices are projected to strengthen in 2013, and remain at or near record high for the rest of the decade.

weaned steer calf price

project long term beef prices

Economic costs of production are also projected to increase the rest of this decade (Figure 5). Year 2013’s costs of production are extra high due to the high price of hay for winter 2012-2013 beef cow rations. The 10-year trend line projection is +$13/year over this 10-year period, based on a projected 2.1% annual increase in production costs.

Record-high calf prices coupled with record-high production costs make for some interesting profit projections.

Figure 6 presents my long-run economic profit projections for beef cow producers. Year 2013 is negatively impacted by the 2012 drought. Years 2014-2016 are influenced by the reduction in the national beef cowherd. By 2016, the national herd is projected to expand, leading to a projected drop in the annual economic profits for the rest of the decade.

long term beef cow profit projections

Economic costs of production are based on the full costs of all resources (except operator labor), with farm-raised feeds priced in at the local market price. Cash costs, on the other hand, are based on the out-of-pocket cost of the resources consumed; depreciation and opportunity cost of capital are excluded. Farm-raised feeds are priced in at cash costs of production.

The annual net cash flow of a high-equity herd is projected in Figure 7.

These numbers are after a $100/cow family-living draw has been taken out.

Net cash flow for a high-equity herd is projected to drop in 2013; again, this is due to the high price of hay for winter 2012-2013. I assume that some hay was purchased to get through the winter.

Net cash flow for 2014-2016 is projected to be record-high. After that, the projected expansion in the national beef cowherd will result in a lowering of annual net cash incomes.

All in all, barring any additional drought years, the post-drought economic forecast for beef cow producers is quite favorable.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected]


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Meat Matters

Congress Must Fix COOL Law

COOl labeling proposal

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) appellate body spelled it out in its report last July. The enforced segregation of imported livestock under the U.S. country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) regulations discriminates against those livestock. Why then did USDA and its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) propose amendments to the COOL rule that don’t even address this issue?

The cynical view is that AMS focused only on one part of the WTO finding, what it called the “lack of correspondence between the recordkeeping and verification requirements, on the one hand, and the limited consumer information conveyed through the retail labeling requirements and exemptions there from.” That’s why AMS proposed new labels that would have to state where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Such a label, incidentally, would have twice the number of words of  the current labels. This would not only incur added costs for meat processors and retailers, it would also be a challenge to put that many words on a label large enough for consumers to be able to read. Never mind that a Kansas State University study late last year found that only 23% of respondents to an online survey were even aware of COOL.

A more charitable view is that AMS was fully aware of the problem with enforced segregation, but was unable to address it in the rulemaking process. WTO’s report clearly stated:

“… in reaching its finding of detrimental impact, the panel found that it is the recordkeeping and verification requirements that ‘necessitate’ segregation, and that create an incentive for U.S. producers to process exclusively domestic livestock and a disincentive to process imported livestock. That is, the panel found that the recordkeeping and verification requirements imposed under the COOL measure lead to the detrimental impact on imported livestock in the U.S. market.”

As I read it, “detrimental impact” means discrimination. Yet AMS’ proposal not only does not address this, it requires even more segregation, thereby enhancing the discrimination and detrimental impact on imported livestock. It’s little wonder that Mexico and Canada cried foul, with the latter already threatening retaliatory action if the U.S. doesn’t fix COOL to WTO’s satisfaction.

USDA and the Obama administration are in a bind. They surely know that the AMS proposal won’t bring COOL into WTO compliance. To do so, the COOL regulation would have to allow a “Product of the U.S.” label on all fresh meat produced in a U.S. facility.

This would be applied regardless of where an animal was born or raised. The animal would simply have to be slaughtered and processed in the U.S. Ironically, the label would be how USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service defines “Product of the U.S.”

The bind is that the move to such a label can’t be achieved by regulation, but only by an amendment to the COOL statute. This will require intensive lobbying of members of Congress and a legislative mechanism (maybe the new farm bill) to attach an amendment to.

Therefore, the COOL saga is far from over. Here’s how it might play out:

 AMS, as required, will note comments from supporters and opponents of its proposed amendment. But it will ignore arguments that it improperly failed to consider its proposal to be economically significant and failed to conduct the appropriate economic analysis. It will ignore arguments that several beef plants might have to close. It will ignore pleas for AMS to withdraw the rule.

Instead, AMS will publish a final rule in time to meet WTO’s May 23 deadline for compliance. Within 90 days after that, WTO will respond by saying the amended rule doesn’t bring the U.S. into compliance with its WTO obligations. Canada and Mexico will then request permission to initiate retaliatory action. The U.S. will ask for more time and the political battle in Congress over COOL will restart.  

Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly ( See his weekly cattle market roundup each Friday afternoon at

Combating Sulfur Toxicity In Range Cattle

sulfur toxicity from water for cattle
<p> In certain areas of the U.S., livestock water sources can contain 2-3 times the upper acceptable limit of sulfur deemed safe for livestock. When a protein supplement containing sulfur is added in this scenario, the outcome can be deadly</p>

A new form of polio (polioencephalomalacia), resulting from cattle consuming high levels of sulfur in range situations, is hitting some cowherds hard in certain areas of the U.S. Identifying what leads to sulfur toxicity in a range scenario, and how to effectively treat, and ideally prevent, its occurrence can eliminate a costly wreck for producers in many areas.

Steve Ensley, Iowa State University veterinary toxicologist and diagnostician, says cattle consuming water with more than 1,000 ppm of sulfur are at risk to develop polio in range conditions. He suggests testing water regularly to determine the sulfur level present.

“We have some water, especially in Western states, with as much as 2,000 to 3,000 ppm of sulfur content. However, since the drinking water supply is typically limited in these situations, we have to use what is available, and cattle do consume the water without issue in some instances,” Ensley says. He stresses that while water alone can pose a problem, many cattle will consume it with no health-related issues.

Erica Koller, an Edgemont, SD-based DVM, says cattle are typically able to adjust to high sulfur content in their drinking water. What often causes them to exhibit sulfur toxicity is when a protein supplement is fed in conjunction with the water.

Ethanol-derived dried distillers grains (DDGs) is a huge byproduct used in cakes, mineral tubs and almost any other supplement that someone might use, mainly because it tends to be a cheaper, more readily available protein source. The issue is that some ethanol plants clean with sulfuric acid, and each batch of DDGs could contain anywhere from 0.4% to 1% sulfur,” she says.

With maximum diet sulfur levels for cattle suggested at 0.3-0.4%, in the right scenario, adding a supplemental feed could quickly surpass even a well-adjusted cow’s ability to avoid toxicity.

While DDGs get most of the rap for high sulfur content in livestock feedstuffs, certain plants can also contain critical levels. These include certain varieties of hay, kochia weeds and Canada thistle. Proper grazing management and testing water sources and feed additives (including hay), can help producers prevent a problem and manage around potential problem areas on their operation.

Watch for symptoms

The first sign of a problem is generally cattle exhibiting polio symptoms. Ensley says the first clinical sign to watch for is blindness. This is due to toxic levels of sulfur within the animal causing brain swelling, which damages neurons, including the optic nerves. If left untreated, ataxia, down animals and death within 48 hours of first exhibiting symptoms is the common outcome.

“An animal exhibiting symptoms can be treated with thiamin, even though the cause isn’t a direct vitamin B deficiency. Usually a combination of steroids and thiamin over 3-4 days will get the animal to come around. But, you have to get to them early, or they’ll likely die,” Koller explains.

Temporarily removing any supplements possibly containing DDGs, and switching water sources if possible, will provide immediate relief and reduce the odds of more cases. However, Koller’s strongest recommendation is to take preventive measures, rather than be prepared to treat affected animals.

Jeremy Martin, a consulting nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting Inc. in Hershey, NE, concurs. He says awareness and proper management are the most effective means of avoiding a wreck.

“If water quality is a question, you need to sample regularly – at least twice a year, in the summer and winter. I realize water testing is an expense, but with the current prices for cattle, it’s manageable in the big picture,” he states.

If water comes back high in sulfur, and no alternative water sources exist, Martin suggests producers consider how to change their feeding strategies.

“I’m not aware of anything feasible that can reduce sulfur levels in existing water sources in a ranch setting. However, it’s possible to supplement cattle to achieve similar results using low-sulfur feedstuffs. The first step is becoming more particular about the source of your protein supplement, making sure your supplier is aware of your situation, and what the sulfur levels are in their feed sources,” Martin explains.

Simple grazing adjustments

It is also realistic to assume that water sources across a single operation will often vary in sulfur content. Thus, simple adjustments in grazing may solve problems before they start.

“If you have summer and winter pastures you utilize specifically in that season, and if you have only certain wells pumping lots of sulfur, I would consider using those wells and pastures in the winter, and not during the breeding season or hotter times of the year. Use them at a time when the cattle are consuming less total water, which will help them avoid reaching toxic levels of consumption,” Martin says.


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For the same reasons, Koller adds that allowing cattle to adapt to a new environment with high sulfur content in the water is also better done in cooler months, when cows aren’t lactating.

“Adult cows can adapt and develop an increased tolerance,” she explains. “However, keep in mind that yearlings are less able to adapt, and weaned calves are the least able, which is partly why we see more issues with them.”

A balanced mineral supplement, with copper and molybdenum, can also aid in tying up more sulfur and preventing it from being absorbed. But, Ensley advises that copper deficiency can occur if too much is being utilized to bind sulfur; producers should be cognizant of that fact.

“The bottom line is that this is a challenge for some producers, with water being the determining factor. The biggest thing in combating the challenge is awareness – knowing what you have and what you need to do to avoid a problem,” Martin concludes.

Heather Hamilton is a rancher and freelance writer based in Lance Creek, WY.


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New Opportunities In Beef Cattle Genomic Testing

Angus Genetics Inc.® and GeneSeek®, a Neogen Corporation subsidiary headquartered in Lincoln, Neb., are pleased to announce the immediate availability of the GeneSeek Angus GGP-HD test. Results from this advanced test will be incorporated into Angus genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs), which are available on a weekly basis through the American Angus Association®National Cattle Evaluation.

“High density DNA tests are of great benefit to Angus breeders seeking to improve their herds through genomic-enhanced EPDs,” says Bill Bowman, American Angus Association chief operating officer and AGI president. “These EPDs incorporate all known sources of information including pedigree, performance records and genomic results, which provide cutting-edge genetic selection tools for breeders of all sizes. This new test expands the options for breeders who use DNA testing.”

The GeneSeek Angus GGP-HD test, or GeneSeek Genomic Profiler, replaces the well-known Igenity®Profile for Angus test and is priced at $75. The custom, high density GeneSeek Genomic Profiler (GGP-HD) features a unique new design with SNP content selectively chosen from studies on thousands of animals. The GeneSeek Angus GGP-HD test includes parentage at no extra charge. In addition, specialty add-on tests will be available for a number of genetic conditions which can be included for as little as $8 per test.  

Bowman emphasizes that a key goal with the GeneSeek Angus GGP-HD test is to provide an additional option for Angus breeders interested in genomic-enhanced EPDs, while also offering a cost-effective way to include additional tests.

GeneSeek, a subsidiary of Neogen, acquired the Igenity bioinformatics system in 2012.

In 2009, AGI, in collaboration with Igenity, provided the beef industry with Angus-specific genomic-enhanced EPDs. Since that time, AGI has continued to foster the research and implementation strategy with GeneSeek to continue to bring high-quality genomic tests into the weekly EPD updates used by Angus breeders and their customers.

“The technology we provide at GeneSeek allows us to deliver an HD genomic test with quality lab procedures at an attractive price,” says Dr. Stewart Bauck, beef genomics director for GeneSeek. “We value our relationship with AGI and members of the American Angus Association, and see the GGP-HD as an exciting next step in the evolution of genomic technology.”

About Neogen Corporation

Neogen Corporation develops and markets products dedicated to food and animal safety. The company’s Food Safety Division markets dehydrated culture media, and diagnostic test kits to detect foodborne bacteria, natural toxins, food allergens, drug residues, plant diseases and sanitation concerns. Neogen’s Animal Safety Division is a leader in the development of animal genomics, along with the manufacturing and distribution of a variety of animal healthcare products, including diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, veterinary instruments, wound care and disinfectants. For more information, please visit

About Angus Genetics Inc.

Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI) is a division of the American Angus Association, with headquarters in Saint Joseph, Mo., which offers services to the more than 30,000 members of the American Angus Association and thousands of commercial cattle producers using Angus genetics across the United States. For more information about AGI or other Association programs, visit or call (816) 383-5100.

To learn more about AGI’s genetic evaluation process and options, visit the website or access AAA Login.



®Igenityand GeneSeek are registered trademarks of Neogen Corporation.

®Angus Genetics Inc. is a registered trademark of Angus Genetics Inc.

®American Angus Association is a registered trademark of the American Angus Association.

Of Pipelines, Polar Bears and Power Grabs

oil production on beef pasture

I read two different articles about the Keystone pipeline project this week, and it was obvious that the pipeline debate is really not about the pipeline at all. Rather it is about the much bigger issue of carbon-based fuels and whether we are going to use them or not. Like the global warming debate, this becomes a debate about the direction of our economy and our values. The pipeline and polar bears are merely props.

These debates are about fossil fuel use. As a result, the Keystone XL project has the attention of the highest levels of government and has big money being poured into the debate from both sides. I’m going to surprise you all and not give my opinion on the pipeline project. But I will say this: the potential positive economic impacts and the potential negative environmental impacts have both been greatly overstated. 

Which brings me to Earth Day. I admire the industry’s efforts to take an active role in Earth Day and to mitigate its negative impacts, but reading the “official” version of Earth Day and the take from its biggest supporters once again makes it clear that it really isn’t as much about preserving our earth as it is an attack on capitalism and the excesses of modern societies.

Whether the environmental movement began with the environment in mind and then came to believe that private property and capitalism was the root of the problem, or whether the environmental movement was created by those opposed to personal liberty and capitalism is largely irrelevant. 

Ultimately, it isn’t about science or the environment. The debate is about who should be allowed to make decisions that affect both the economy and the environment, like the Keystone pipeline. Earth Day supporters may hate the greedy capitalist and all they have produced, but I like to drive my truck, I appreciate grocery stores full of products and all the other luxuries that anti-capitalists see as a testament to greed and selfishness.


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In many ways these debates are merely a microcosm of the debates we are seeing play out on the bigger political stage in the battle between government control of our economies and lives, or independent liberty and self-actualized innovation. These are debates that are as old as time, and they won’t go away soon. 

And the outcome is far from decided. The dismal results in countries that reject individual liberty and economic freedom are obvious from Europe to Africa to Central America to the Middle East, but democracy and capitalism have not been embraced. In fact, the failures of these systems are largely attributed to the success of individual, privately-owned entities and the belief that they prosper at the expense of others.

Yes, the battles may be waged over endangered species or pipelines, but in the end, victory or defeat is determined by whether or not we lose our ability to make our own decisions and control our own property. While the weight of history is definitely on the side of those who advocate individual liberty and economic freedom, current political trends are worrisome.  

The debates won’t go away. The best the beef industry can hope for is to slow the present trend toward socialism in the U.S. and then hope we can make some political hay should the sunshine brighter in the future.


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Not Time To Panic About Corn Planting – Yet!

corn planting

The lack of progress with corn planting in the Corn Belt states has people nervous. However, we are still early in the process and with May 10th being the widely accepted ideal planting date, we could still see the vast majority of planting occur close to on-time.

Planting dates are just one element of larger weather concerns moving forward, but if we are still having this discussion in late May, it will be increasingly difficult to hit or exceed trendline yield estimates. However, the good times of recent years have allowed farmers to invest substantially in upgrading their equipment. Planters are ready, and the American farmer will hit the fields with the most modern and newest equipment inventory ever.

Meanwhile, while farmers itch to get into the fields, the market is trying to sort out all the conflicting signals it’s getting, with corn and grain in a rally while fed and feeder prices disappoint. Ag markets have been characterized by extreme volatility that sometimes seems to be completely disconnected from market fundamentals, but ultimately the markets still are doing a tremendous job of price discovery. Fear and greed may rule in the short term, but fundamentals always will have the ultimate say.  

Volatility will likely decrease as the cattle market becomes more accustomed to the new rules of the game—tighter supplies, higher feed costs, and more risk.


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Weather Playing Tricks On Consumers And Cattlemen Alike

Weather Playing Tricks On Consumers And Cattlemen Alike

It’s shaping up to be another year of too much for some folks and too little for others. Now it appears the question is this: will it be too much, too soon for corn farmers and too little, too late for cattlemen?

 The talk all winter and early spring was the lack of moisture and the persistent drought, with some areas going into year three of exceptionally dry conditions. Then, for parts of the country at least, the moisture conditions improved significantly. In fact, the concern now through parts of the Midwest is delayed corn planting because of too much moisture. 

But the wacky weather has done more than just delay corn planting. It has caused the widest price spreads for feedstuffs and cows ever recorded, with similar bred cows selling for as much as $800 different between drought areas and areas with moisture. The price spreads seem exorbitant even with today’s trucking costs, but one of the things that the recent bouts of forced liquidation has taught producers is that the environmental impact on moving cows is tremendous.

Shipping cows from South to North, East to West or vice versa, is more difficult than anticipated. The acclimation factor is significant, and the length of time it takes for a cow to adjust to her new surroundings is time and money lost. As a result, producers are pretty committed to buying replacement females from similar geographic and management systems. The result is a more pronounced trend of regionalization in the female market. 

And then, of course, there’s the feeder cattle market. The demand for grass cattle, or lack thereof, was reflected in the latest Cattle on Feed report, where more calves entered feedyards. Part of this increase is due to producers running low on feed and wanting to save limited feed inventories, but it is also a reflection of weaker-than-normal grass demand. In part that’s moisture related, but it’s also aided by unseasonably cool temperatures that have kept the grass from popping in a lot of areas. Consumer demand has also been disappointing, fueled by the cooler weather and the slow start to grilling season. 

 It has widely been assumed that the extreme spread between feeder prices and fed prices would continue because of tight supplies and overcapacity in the feeding industry. However, it is also becoming obvious that cattle feeders must lower procurement costs. 

According to data from the Livestock Marketing Information Center, cattle feeders have lost money now for 24 consecutive months. The old rule of thumb is that feeders will buy back some profits after 2-3 turns of losses on the fed side. We have exceeded that time period, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for cattle feeders. Feeders are pretty adept at managing the risk associated with higher feed prices, but the fed market’s inability to match expectations is now being felt in the feeder and calf markets. 

Cattle feeders will continue to be under pressure, but there is a limit to how much loss they can sustain. If demand continues to disappoint and cannot overcome the price limitations placed on it by the pork and poultry industries, the long-promised increase in prices may fall well short of expectations. I’m still highly optimistic about price trends, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that expectations for prices may be overly bullish.

Tight supplies aside, we may have underestimated just how much demand the beef industry continues to lose, which means the decline in numbers perhaps is more reflective of true market conditions than first thought. As an industry, that’s a sobering wake-up call. Analysts have been telling us that the cattle industry must shrink as a result of the new realities created by the subsidization of ethanol, but it is also widely believed that the drought and other negative factors has caused the industry to liquidate too much in the short term. 

While the beef industry is still poised to see record high prices moving forward, we must heed that wake-up call. If we do not do something to actively improve beef demand, we will continue to see this industry shrink. While we are a long way from the sheep industry, the trend lines are scarily similar.

Cattlemen made great strides in the late ‘90s and early part of the 21st century to stop the erosion in beef demand by investing and rallying behind a long-term strategic plan to build beef demand. The failure of this industry to focus on and invest in growing demand over the last five or so years is now being felt, and the sad reality is that this too appears to be a trend as well.

This industry should be looking toward a new era in beef prices. Instead, it appears we are looking at a narrow window of “good” times in the context of an ever-shrinking beef industry. If so, the “good” times will not meet expectations.

The best news on the demand front is that consumer confidence in April showed an uptick after declining in March. Confidence levels are still low, but hopefully April is an indication that they are on the mend. The marketplace is continuing to adapt to changes and one thing is for certain, the rules of recent years no longer apply. Pundits are even suggesting that retained ownership may once again be a viable alternative in the near future.

It is probably too much to ask for, but what we need from Mother Nature is increased moisture in the Central and Southern Plains, a short-term dry spell in the Corn Belt, and warm, dry weather on the coasts.


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EPA Continues To Release Personal Information On Cattle Producers

EPA release private cattle producer information

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to illegally release information on cattle operations to the activist groups Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In this latest action, the agency again admitted it had released too much information on livestock producers, specifically producers from Montana and Nebraska. This action happened less a month after the agency found it had released too much information on livestock producers in 10 states.  

NCBA Past President J.D. Alexander, a cattle feeder from Pilger, Neb., and whose information was released to the activists groups in the initial EPA action, said it is clear “someone at EPA is either completely incompetent or intentionally violating federal law. Either way, this action shows EPA cannot be trusted with sensitive information and should not have the authority to procure or disseminate it. NCBA is calling for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General into this matter.”

The records released in February by EPA include names of producers and operations, locations and in some cases even personal phone numbers for farmers and ranchers who own beef, swine or poultry operations. Most of the 80,000 facilities listed are not regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), some having as few as 12 head of livestock. After NCBA and other livestock groups expressed outrage over the initial release of information, EPA conducted a review of the records and admitted it released too much personal information for 10 of the 29 states included in the documents. After a second review, the agency once again said too much information was released for operations located in Nebraska and Montana.

“These actions by EPA once again prove that the agency is incapable of properly doing its job. Nowhere in law is EPA required to obtain and display such personal information on all these livestock operations. On the contrary, the federal government should be protecting its citizens from unwarranted attacks,” Alexander said. “Instead, EPA has once again threatened the health and safety of America’s farmers and their families, as well as decreased the security of our food system. Now they have politely asked these activist groups twice to return those documents with extremely sensitive information on them. What makes EPA think that these groups will listen and act appropriately in order to protect hardworking farming and ranching families, those families that environmental activist groups want out of business?”

He added that NCBA continues to pursue legislative action that would prevent the agency from being able to make these devastating mistakes.

Nebraska Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer said the fact that EPA disregarded the privacy of cattle producers in their home state of Nebraska and across the country shows the agency continues to act as if it is above the law.

“EPA’s disclosure of personal and confidential information of private citizens and business owners – including 3,500 Nebraskans – demonstrates a complete disregard for their privacy and safety. Now, we have learned that, in the agency’s mismanaged attempt to recover the information, the EPA failed to request the return of hundreds of Nebraskans’ personal data that should not have been released,” said Fischer. “This whole episode is more than a mere comedy of errors; it represents a pattern of disturbing disregard for the rights of our citizens. I believe Nebraskans – and Congress – deserve a thorough, independent and speedy review of the EPA’s handling of the deliberate disclosure and botched recovery process.”

Johanns agreed with Fischer, stating that “EPA’s ongoing assault on America’s agriculture producers is nothing short of alarming.”

EPA’s disregard for the privacy of farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and across the country is, at best, woeful negligence, and at worst, a flagrant effort to aid organizations seeking to radically dismantle agriculture practices, with no regard for what it takes to feed the world. I certainly hope EPA’s release of sensitive personal data was not part of a larger agenda to jeopardize American agriculture operations, but its track record does not help its case. EPA must now explain how it will ensure private information is not abused.”


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Is It Fair To Use Religion In The Animal Rights Debate?

beef cow in sunset

A few days ago, someone rang my doorbell. I’m always a little hesitant to answer the door when I’m home alone on the ranch, but the woman looked nice enough. I opened the door and she passed me a book, urging me to read it. I politely took it and thanked her for stopping by. That evening, I started flipping through the pages. Hours later, I was engrossed in passages of theology and Biblical verses explaining why we should abstain from eating meat.

This isn’t the first time someone has used religion in a debate with me about my profession in beef production. In fact, a recent tactic of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is to appeal to Christians. According to, “HSUS launched a religion department about five years ago to churn out anti-farmer and animal rights propaganda with Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other religious tints to it. The department is run by CEO Wayne Pacelle’s former live-in girlfriend. (We wonder how Wayne’s fiancée feels about him and his ex still working together.) The entire purpose is to repackage animal liberation – meaning the idea that using animals for just about any reason is wrong – by cloaking it in religious language. Show mercy for animals, HSUS says. Show mercy for animals by not eating cheese, is what HSUS means.”

Furthermore, HSUS even has its own religious manual, “The HSUS Bible -- The Revised PETA Version,” which tries to appeal to Christian’s practice of self-denial through fasting. But instead of fasting on Fridays through Lent, HSUS would prefer if we abstained from eating meat and dairy on a regular basis, to further our Christianity, of course.

If the aforementioned woman ever comes to my door again, I might read her this Biblical verse about animal care:

Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

As a rancher, I’m not senselessly killing God’s creatures. When I harvest a beef animal, I know that I’m not only providing steaks and burgers, but by-products, too, including insulin for diabetics, stearic acid for roadways, makeup, deodorants, crayons, paint brushes, leather, and the list goes on and on. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Nebraska rancher Trent Loos, who says, “Everything lives and everything dies, but death with a purpose gives full meaning to life.”

This is a topic I often ponder while doing chores. The other day, we lost a 16-year-old cow after a tough calving. She should have been on the cull list last year, but you know how it is with a good one that produces good calves -- she always has “one more year” in her. As the snow pelted down on me and the tears flowed from the loss of my cow, I wondered, do cattle go to heaven? If so, she sure deserves to be there. I hope I see her one day in that grassy pasture in the sky.

Were the tears and thoughts of heaven just irrational emotions based on the loss of a beloved animal in a tough calving season? Sure. But, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about life after death in regard to my animals. Every time we harvest a show steer after the state fair, or a calf doesn’t make it, I think the same thing. I was reminded of this train of thought when I read a blog post titled, “Till We Meet Again,” by Emily Moore.


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After Moore lost one of her old show heifers she wrote, “No matter how old I get, losing a show heifer or a favorite animal will never get any easier for me. It is just something about that special bond between a person and their livestock that grips my heartstrings in a special way. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the circle of life and how things work, but it still leaves a little mark on my heart. My girls have lived a long life, and I get by hoping there is a cow heaven. So here is to my show heifers past and those soon to pass a tribute to each of you.”

I’m a regular church-goer, though I certainly am not an expert on the church’s teachings. I can, however, certainly wax poetic about my life experiences with these beef animals. Some might ask that, if I love them so much, how can I eat them? Cattle are not pets. I know that each time I harvest one of these creatures, I’m nourishing others, including my family. It’s the circle of life -- one of the first lessons I learned as a kid on the ranch.

This is a tough topic of discussion, but it’s important that you all realize that the religious focus from animal rights activists is certainly growing. The push to convert our society to a vegetarian one is great, and the biggest obstacle for its proponents is the conservative middle and right, where steak and potatoes is center of the dinner plate, and taking care of the land and the animals is just a part of daily life. Needless to say, I’m proud to be in that category, and at the end of my life, I hope I make it to heaven. I picture God waiting for me with green grass and old show heifers grazing in a pasture in the clouds.

What is your take on this topic? How would you respond to the anti-meat folks’ contentions about the Bible and vegetarianism? Share your thoughts, philosophies, concerns, arguments, etc., in the comments section below.


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Here’s A Food Label That Consumers Care About

food labels that consumers care about

“Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and make it worse even as it claims to fix it,” says J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute (AMI).

Boyle was speaking of USDA’s proposed rule that would modify the mandatory COOL provisions for muscle cuts of stipulated commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps occurred (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered).

Presumably, the proposedrule is how USDA aims to comply with a ruling from the World Trade Organization (WTO), which found that U.S. COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports. Thus, they were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Keep in mind that Canada and Mexico – which filed the complaint with WTO – were the largest and third-largest export customers, respectively, for U.S. beef in 2012.

“The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009. Complying with this proposal, should it become mandatory, will create more excessive costs that will be passed onto consumers,” Boyle explains.

Best as I can tell, outside of a handful of food elitists and activists, consumers don’t much care where beef originates or where various processing steps occur. They rightfully assume that if it’s in the meat case, it has undergone USDA inspection and is safe to consume. After that, they care about price, appearance and a repeatable, reliable eating experience.

Oh, and they’d like to know what they’re buying. But, according to research conducted by the beef checkoff program and the National Pork Board (NPB), package labels have been downright confusing for consumers.

Consider what has been standard label nomenclature for the hugely popular Flat Iron Steak: “Beef Shoulder, Top Blade, Flat Iron, Steak, Boneless.” If consumers read to the end, they might still wonder if it’s the same thing they had at a restaurant.

That’s the impetus behind the recently approved change to beef and pork common names for use on beef and pork package labels.

Technically speaking, the beef checkoff program and NPB recently received unanimous approval from the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee to introduce updated Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards nomenclature for fresh beef and pork for retailers to use on labels.

This approval means rather than a single line on the label proclaiming, “Beef Top Loin Steak Boneless,” the new label can say:

Strip Steak
Beef, Boneless
Great for Topping Salads
Best When Grilled

Or, in the Flat Iron example mentioned previously, the new label will read:

Flat Iron Steak
Beef Shoulder, Top Blade, Boneless

Some retailers will go a step further by including a label with specific cooking instructions and/or a recipe.

“We are pleased to have industry support to introduce new, simplified fresh meat names that will help consumers better understand the beef and pork cuts they see every day in the meat case,” says Jim Henger, senior executive director of B2B Marketing for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the beef checkoff program.


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“This is a really historic event for the meat industry,” says Patrick Fleming, NPB’s director of retail marketing. “This cross-industry effort to develop new common names was completely consumer-driven, and is something that we all recognize as critical to keeping meat on the center of the plate.”

After being introduced to the new naming system, 63% of consumers said they were likely to try a new cut of meat, and 77% said they were likely to find and go to a store that had this program.

Imagine that: a labeling program that consumers care about, and one that promises to help market more beef rather than hinder it, like COOL does.


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