Fall EPDs for Red Angus now available

The Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) has released the 2016 Fall EPDs that evaluate traits from calving ease to performance to carcass merit. The suite of numbers includes tools to select cattle with optimum economic relevance such as stayability, heifer pregnancy and maintenance energy requirements. GridMaster and HerdBuilder indexes offer a comprehensive tool to help cattlemen achieve their breeding goals.

 The Red Angus breed has been dedicated to Total Herd Reporting (THR) for two decades, creating an accurate database of Red Angus genetics and subsequently, EPDs trusted by ranchers. EPDs are displayed with their in-breed ranking percentile to assist cattle producers with their trait-selection decisions.

 “With THR data, we are provided with comparisons between all animals in each contemporary group,” said Larry Keenan, RAAA director of breed improvement. “Since EPDs rely on measured variation within a contemporary group, THR provides for reliable EPDs and faster gains in EPD accuracy by ensuring that the variation in the performance of each calf is counted.”

 Red Angus’ strong foundation of THR data combined with genomic data from high-density DNA tests provides EPDs with high reliability. The information from the genomic data can be as informative as a bull’s first calf crop or a cow’s lifetime production record. And, since the genomic data is incorporated directly into the EPDs, cattle producers don’t have to learn how to interpret new data. The information will be delivered in the form of higher accuracy EPDs.

 For more information on EPDs, visit the “Genetics” page on the RAAA website, www.RedAngus.org.  Producers can also access individual animals’ EPDs and breed percentiles, or calculate the projected EPDs of specific matings on the website.


Material on BEEF Briefing Room comes directly from company news releases. Source: Red Angus Association of America

Test your bulls for trich before turning them out

There’s nothing like a reproductive wreck to drive home the importance of herd health, not just for the cows and calves, but for the bulls, too. Just ask anyone who’s have a trich wreck. They know, all too well.

That’s because reproductive health complications can be devastating to both cow/calf producers’ herds and their bottom lines. Trichomoniasis, commonly known as trich, can deal some of the most significant of those blows.

Trich is a costly sexually transmitted disease that can infect an entire herd within a short span of time. Reports from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service indicate that trich can potentially reduce a producer’s yearly calf crop by more than 50 percent.1

“There are many reproductive pathogens that can affect a producer’s bottom line,” said Dr. John Davidson, senior professional services veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. (BIVI). “But in my observations, there is no disease that has a greater economic impact for a cow/calf producer than bovine trichomoniasis.”

There is currently no treatment for trich, and with a fluctuating market for beef, it’s a disease producers can’t afford to ignore. Trich can have an impact on many components of herd health, but mostly affects these three areas:

  1. Reduces calf crop up to 50 percent due to early embryonic loss or abortion.1
  2. Shifts pregnancy/calving pattern, resulting in lighter weaning weights and more open cows.
  3. Infects cattle, which can lead to the need for culling and replacing, affecting valued farm-grown genetics from your herd.

Before purchasing a new bull and introducing him to your herd, ask the all-important question: Has he been tested? According to Davidson, purchasing animals from reputable sources that have been tested and shown to be free of trich will lessen your herd’s risk of contracting the disease.

“A bull’s ticket to enter and leave a breeding pasture is a negative trich test performed by a knowledgeable and competent veterinarian,” he added.

Neighboring herds can also be a source of spreading the disease, especially in herds that utilize open-range grazing. “Stay in touch with neighbors to learn if trichomoniasis has been identified or tested for in their herds,” recommended Davidson. “In the same way, be a good neighbor yourself and talk to your local veterinarian about adding trich surveillance to your herd health program.”

While trich can only be transmitted through sexual contact, if neighboring bulls are infected, a simple jump over the fence could introduce this destructive disease to your herd.

To know if your herd is at a higher risk level, visit TrichRegs.com, which indicates the states that are commonly impacted by trich, as well as your state’s Board of Animal Health regulations.

While there is no approved treatment for trich in the United States, there is currently one vaccine available that has been proven to reduce the shedding of Tritrichomonas foetus, the disease-causing organism: TrichGuard.® In a university study, TRICHGUARD improved calving percentages by more than 150 percent compared to unvaccinated cows, whose calving percentage was only 20 percent.2

Reproductive health is crucial to the success of any operation, and the signs of trich should be monitored year-round for best results. Early abortions, decreased settling rate and multiple rebreeds can be signs of trich, and will be best managed in early pregnancy. Take control today, and put management practices in place to avoid a trich wreck.

 

Material on BEEF Briefing Room comes directly from company news releases. Source: Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

Are cattle traders trying to catch a falling knife?

Are cattle traders trying to catch a falling knife?

The term “falling knife” is a common expression among traders. It denotes a stock valuation or futures contract that has experienced significant decline in value. Timing markets is always challenging (i.e. impossible) – but it’s especially hard to call the bottom. Thus, jumping in at the perceived bottom with hopes to profit can prove risky – there’s always potential for more downside. Hence, that practice invokes the reference to catching a falling knife.

Traders who found themselves jumping into the fed market a month ago based on their expectations of a bottom are now feeling the pain of that decision. As noted last month, the market was poised “…for a breakout to new price levels or also potentially test new lows.” August’s market action brought the latter – the falling knife of new lows.  

For some perspective, fed trade ended July with mostly sideways trade for the month at $117 – right in line with the monthly average, albeit that average was $6 off from June and $12 lower versus May. And given that $117 trade, there was some hope that perhaps mid-July’s $114-115 was the seasonal low.  

That sentiment found some confirmation during the first half of August with trade hovering around $118-119. But then the market ran into trouble. First, fed cattle gave up another couple of dollars and retested July’s $114-115 low. And upon that retest, the market needed to hold.

No such luck. The last week of August turned especially ugly. Cattle feeders not only sold cattle early in the week, but did so around $110. Fed prices haven’t traded at that level since 2011 (Figure 1). 

weekly fed prices

Simultaneously, the CME contracts also got beat up. October Live Cattle gave up $5 going into Labor Day. But more importantly, the contract finished the week by establishing a new contract low at $101.38 and barely managed to close above that low at $101.60. Worse yet, follow-through on Monday just piled on – October retreated even further, including an intra-day break below $100.

Penetration of key support levels now leaves the contract vulnerable from a technical perspective (Figure 2).  Moreover, Steve Kay, writing in  Cattle Buyers Weekly, points out that, “October’s deep discount to cash suggests that cash prices could go lower in September or even in October unless futures prices rally sharply, say analysts. That would depend on beef demand improving and continued slaughter levels large enough to take cattle off the market in a timely fashion, they say.” 

Live cattle daily close

So, the market now heads into the fall needing to establish some semblance of positive action. The only catalyst for that to occur will be pull from the wholesale market. It’s been an especially hot summer and beef sales have struggled. The Choice cutout has largely traded around $200 since mid-July. However, pre-Labor Day sales were disappointing with Friday’s spot sales closer to $190. Cooler weather and fall featuring should help to encourage inventory clearance and provide a lift to boxed beef prices. 

However, on the other side of the price equation comes consideration of fed cattle supplies. Cattle feeders have been fairly aggressive in purchasing replacements in late spring and through the summer. Placements in March, April, May, June and July have run ahead of last year by 5%, 7%, 10%, 3% and 2%, respectively. Those bigger placements represent an additional 438,000 head versus 2015 that began hitting the pipeline in August and will need to be marketed in the coming months (Figure 3).

Monthly feedyard placements

Feedyard managers will need to be active marketers in the months to come. But the temptation is to fight the market and get bogged down with inventory – especially when the closeouts are persistently negative (Figure 4). Note that Kansas State’s data represents a cash-to-cash calculation and not intended to represent all operations, nor account for hedging coverage. Nevertheless, it’s the trend that matters and it’s relentless; over the course of 18 months (February 2015 through July 2016) the average hovers around $230 per head.

monthly cattle closeouts

Meanwhile, as noted last month, it’s not just the beef sector that’s proving productive. Protein supplies remain ample. Pork and poultry are bringing bigger production numbers to the market, too. 

To that end, last month’s column included some analysis from the Livestock Marketing Information Center: “For the first six months of 2016, U.S. beef production was 5.2% above 2015’s. At 12.1 billion pounds, that was the largest tonnage for January-June since 2013.”

Accordingly, Figure 5 represents monthly changes in meat production versus 2015. The additional total, versus 2015, is 1.273 billion pounds; 600.2, 105.7, and 567.3 million pounds for beef, pork and poultry, respectively. That’s roughly equivalent to 4 pounds of additional protein per capita in the U.S.   

Commercial protein production

There’s work ahead. Undoubtedly, much of this feels like a repeat of 2015. In fact, the year-over-year chart patterns are strikingly parallel. It’s a stark reminder that markets can be brutal and unforgiving.

One thing’s for sure—we’re likely to see continued pressure and uncertainty. With that in mind, producers need to remain vigilant, disciplined and objective. Comprehensive review of operational priorities and risk tolerance will help navigate market challenges and ensure successful decision making along the way.

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.

 

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The rich get richer: Does that apply to ag families, too?

The rich get richer: Does that apply to ag families, too?

Last week’s column focused on the general state of the economy and specifically the general trend in job creation since the financial crisis. The column noted that, “…one of the key indicators for consideration around monetary policy stems from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The agency’s Jobs Report, formally known as the Employment Situation Summary, is highly anticipated every month by traders as proxy for economic growth. The August report marked 255,000 new jobs being created in July – well ahead of pre-report expectations.”

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released a new report titled, Trends in Family Wealth, 1998 to 2013. CBO’s report focuses on shifts in family wealth distribution over time, along with consideration of additional factors including age and education. 

CBO explains that, “In 2013, aggregate family wealth in the United States was $67 trillion (or about four times the nation’s gross domestic product) and the median family (the one at the midpoint of the wealth distribution) held approximately $81,000…”  Moreover, CBO also details that, “In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%.”

U.S. holdings of family wealth

This week’s illustration highlights holdings of family wealth, categorized by percentiles, between 1989 and 2013. CBO articulates the relative shift over time: 

The share of wealth held by families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution increased from 67% to 76%, whereas the share of wealth held by families in the bottom half of the distribution declined from 3% to 1%.

Two developments contributed to the change in the distribution of wealth:  compared with families in the top half of the distribution, families in the bottom half experienced disproportionately slower growth in wealth between 1989 and 2007, and they had a disproportionately larger decline in wealth after the recession of 2007 to 2009.

In light of the election season, it’s important to note that none of this discussion is intended as political commentary in any form or fashion. Rather, it’s offered as background with respect for comparison purposes. Namely, it allows farm/ranch families to compare their relative change in family wealth over time in some perspective to the broader population. Secondly, it also possesses some implications to beef demand and pricing power.

With that in mind, how do you perceive the general shift of family wealth? How might, or might not, these data and trends be important to the beef industry? What other implications surround CBO’s new report for the beef, pork and poultry industries? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.

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Lice aren’t nice; protect your cowherd and your business

Lice aren’t nice; protect your cowherd and your business

Cooler weather brings with it a greater risk of lice, which are more prevalent in colder months. Left uncontrolled, lice can cause problems in your herd and may even impact your bottom line. In fact, the USDA estimates that livestock producers collectively lose $125 million per year to lice.1 Protecting your operation includes understanding the life cycle of lice, recognizing the potential damage and using effective methods of control.

Life cycle and types of lice

Louse life cycles are generally three to four weeks long and spent entirely on animals. This begins with female lice laying eggs (nits), which are glued to the host’s hair. Nymphs hatch from the eggs one to two weeks later and become fully developed adults in about two weeks. Adult females can lay approximately 30 to 40 eggs during their life. If not controlled, a single adult female in September can result in approximately 1 million lice by January.

Two types of lice live on cattle: sucking lice and biting lice. Sucking lice feed on the host’s blood and are most often found along the top line of an animal’s back, but also can spread to the poll and tail head. Biting lice, which ingest skin, hair and scabs, are more widespread on the body. One species of biting louse and four species of sucking lice infest cattle in the U.S.

Damage caused by lice

A single cow can harbor more than 1 million lice. Infestation can result in lameness, allergic responses, skin damage and more. If left uncontrolled, lice can cause anemia, lower milk production, decreased feed efficiency and reduced weight gain.2 Furthermore, lice can increase the animal’s susceptibility to diseases and mortality.3 Cattle infected with lice also tend to recover from diseases slower than healthy cattle.

Additional signs of louse infestation in cattle include restlessness, agitation and excessive rubbing or scratching, which can result in hair loss and raw spots.2 Open skin leaves cattle more inclined to illness, including various infections and anemia.

Excessive scratching not only harms the cattle, but can damage your property as well. Cattle with lice are inclined to scratch themselves by rubbing against edges of structures, which, due to their size, can damage sides of barns, fences, trees or any other property that could provide a scratching post.

Both groups are equally harmful to cattle, but fortunately, both respond to the same treatments.

Lice prevention and control

There are a variety of insecticides that can help you effectively control lice. Dusts, pour-ons and sprays provide easy-to-use and versatile treatment options.

Traditional treatments involve a two-step process: First, treatment to kill adults and nymphs on the animal, followed by a second treatment three weeks later to kill adult lice and nymphs that hatched from eggs after the first treatment.

A simpler, more efficient approach uses a product with an insect growth regulator (IGR), which kills adult lice, nymphs and eggs with a single application. Treated cattle should be re-examined about two weeks later, regardless of the treatment method used.

Action also must be taken to prevent re-infestation. Lice are spread primarily through animal to animal contact, including feeding, breeding or shipping. Due to this threat, facilities used by infested cattle should either be treated with insecticide or should remain empty for 10 days before being used by clean stock. Additionally, any new animals should be isolated from the resident herd and treated before they are added to the herd.

Keeping safety in mind

Finally, be sure to read the label and know what personal protection equipment is required for the products being used for lice control. Also, be sure that the employees applying these products are trained in the proper use of each product and the use of the appropriate equipment.

Lice infestations have the potential to be costly and frustrating. With proper planning and resources, producers can limit the destruction caused by lice this fall and winter.'

Doug Ross is senior technical services entomologist at Bayer Animal Health.

1 Campbell JB. (2006). Lice Control on Cattle. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources website. Available at: http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/live/g1112/build/g1112.pdf. Accessed December 17, 2013.

2 Johnson G. (2010). Management of Lice on Livestock. Montana State University Extension. Available at: http://www.msuextension.org/flatheadres/documents/2010%2005%20May%20-%20Lice%20-%20MT201002AG.pdf. Accessed June 16, 2016.

3 Swiger, S.L. (2012) Managing External Parasites of Texas Cattle. AgriLife Extension. Available at: http://livestockvetento.tamu.edu/files/2010/10/Managing-External-Parasites-of-Texas-Cattle.pdf.

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5 tips for getting your stories printed in local newspapers

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to comment, email or send me a Facebook message in response to my blog post, “Vegan criticism is fuel for my fire.” It’s never fun being compared to a Nazi, having your family attacked and your personal beliefs torn to pieces, but at the end of the day, I have to admire zealot vegans for their passion.

Even if I think they could benefit from a steak, I know that we will never see eye to eye, and that’s OK. I’m more concerned about reaching the 95% of folks who simply want to know more about where their food comes from, and I hope my voice is louder than the vegan crowd’s.

The blog post sparked some great conversations and ideas for future blog posts. One reader question, in particular, was definitely worth expanding upon in a blog post instead of simply responding in the comments section.

Eileeno writes, “Our local Cattle Women's Association would like to do more to reach the public to advocate for the good of cattle — especially their contribution to improving rangeland and providing important human nutrition. But how can we get newspapers to print our stories? Suggestions?”

What a great question! I think a lot of readers could benefit from some tricks of the trade to get more positive articles printed in their local papers.

Switching from my rancher’s hat to my journalist’s hat, here are five tips for success in getting your articles printed:

1. Pitch your story idea

Having an ongoing relationship with the editor of your local newspaper is always beneficial. Perhaps you won’t even be the one writing the story, but if you let the editor know when a cattlemen’s event is coming up or perhaps pitch an idea for a story, the paper will be more likely to send a reporter to cover the event.


Ideas for stories might include: local FFA chapter does good in the community; young rancher continuing family tradition; area producer trying something new or innovative on his ranch; meat locker selling beef raised from area 4-H kids; etc.

Perhaps you could tie your story to other big news in the area. For example, if your community has been hit by wildfires, tie an article idea to that event and explain how cattle grazing helps prevent the spread of wildfires. Watch for big headlines in the paper and find creative ways to tie in to the events the newspaper is already covering. Remember, local papers and radio stations want local stories.

2. Research style

Every newspaper, magazine or online publication has a unique style. Know and understand the editor’s preferences for writing style, length of story, type of story, etc. to better deliver something the editor can use without editing, cutting or changing too much. This makes his job easier and you more likely to have success.

3. Package your story

Today’s editor is not only printing a paper each week, he is also packaging stories for the online website, as well as social media platforms. Provide copy for the paper and repackage in a shorter, snappier version for the web. Bonus points if you include a Tweet and Facebook post, so they are ready to go online.

For example, a lengthier newspaper post could be shortened to a numbered list for easy reading online. Check out the website to see how the editor prefers the online versions of stories to appear. Editors are usually on a time crunch, so anything to make their job easier will always help you build a relationship with the publication.

4. Provide photography & videos

Photographs and videos can help bring the story to life. Provide several good images to go with each story. Perhaps the editor isn’t interested in printing an article in the paper, but he might be willing to post a series of photos in an online gallery. Make sure to provide cutlines for each photograph in a document, so they are easy to understand and the editor doesn’t have to track you down for more information.

5. Deliver as promised

Did the editor give you a deadline and the go-ahead to pursue a particular story? Make sure you deliver on time or ahead of schedule. Know how the editor prefers to receive stories. Typically, it’s through email to allow for quick download and turnaround on the copy. If the editor knows you are reliable and can consistently provide clean copy for publication, you might just land yourself a regular gig!

Sometimes it’s hard to sell positive news stories, particularly in larger urban publications where it seems like bad news and sensational headlines sell the most papers. However, I have found that local, small-town newspapers are more than willing to print feel-good stories of people in their communities. Start there and gradually try to move to larger publications. Keep a portfolio of things you have had printed to showcase to editors in the future. And remember, a classic letter to the editor can be beneficial in telling your story, too.

You don’t have to be a journalist to be published in the newspaper, but keep these tips in mind to help you succeed when submitting material to the media.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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When is a beef carcass too big?

When is a beef carcass too big?

Larger carcasses have been the norm in recent years. But exactly, “when are your cattle done?” asks Robbi Prichard, beef cattle specialist and professor at South Dakota State University,  speaking at the Feeding Quality Forum sponsored partly by Certified Angus Beef..

That depends on the market, Choice-Select spread, quality and other factors, he says. “Feedlots want them to get bigger. Ranchers like them bigger, too,” Prichard added.

The trick is producing a bigger carcass without increasing the number of YG 4s. “Hot carcass weight (HCW) is still the most economically rewarding trait, but we want more,” Prichard said, noting that the ribeye doesn’t normally increase in size as carcass weights go above 900 pounds. “We want more HCW, more quality grade but fewer YG 4s.”

He stressed that implants remain important to better gains. “One implant adds 75 pounds of HCW (to an 800-pound steer) and can add 100 pounds HCW in a steer’s lifetime,” he says, adding that implants help manage growth of good genetics.

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What to expect when U.S.-Brazil beef trade resumes

What to expect when U.S.-Brazil beef trade resumes

On August 1, USDA announced that Brazil is reopening to U.S. beef for the first time since the first U.S. BSE case was confirmed in December 2003. The USDA release also noted that in a separate decision, its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently determined that the United States can safely import fresh (chilled or frozen) beef from Brazil.

Currently, beef imports from Brazil are limited to cooked and canned products, due to restrictions related to foot and mouth disease. Further regulatory steps are necessary before shipments can begin in either direction, but when beef trade resumes between the two countries, what is the likely impact?

According to U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Economist Erin Borror, the potential for U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports to Brazil will be fairly limited in the near term, due in part to Brazil’s economic situation and relatively weak currency.

However, the Brazilian real has already strengthened by about 25% versus the dollar since its February low, and she foresees more significant medium-term opportunities for exports of high-quality U.S. middle meats and picanha or coulotte, a top sirloin cap cut that is very popular in Brazil, for use in the foodservice and high-end retail sectors. The market also offers potential demand for beef variety meat.

“U.S. beef will be differentiated and marketed as a unique product in the upscale sectors of metropolitan areas such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro,” Borror explains. “There are also opportunities for U.S. liver exports, as beef livers are a popular item in Brazil and command relatively high prices.”

The U.S. is the largest exporter of beef livers in the world, and has been looking to diversify its liver markets since Russia closed to U.S. beef in 2013.

A look back at the years prior to December 2003 shows sporadic success for U.S. beef in Brazil – which is not surprising, considering its volatile currency and fluctuating domestic supplies. In 2003, U.S. beef exports to Brazil totaled just 312 metric tons (mt) valued at about $475,000. This was down from 552 mt in 2002, valued at $1.2 million (Figure 1).

U.S. beef exports to brazil
Figure 1

During those years, Brazil was a relatively small exporter of beef and its primary import suppliers were the same as today: Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Since that time, Brazil’s production, consumption and exports have surged while imports have declined. While imports reached 126,000 mt in 1997, the recent high was just 60,000 mt in 2014.

Through July, Brazil’s 2016 beef imports are up 7% from a year ago to 30,178 mt, with Paraguay (20,181 mt, +26.5%) as the largest supplier, followed by Uruguay and Argentina. Australia was a significant supplier to Brazil before the recent slowdown in Australian production (Figure 2).

Brazil imports by suppliers
Figure 2

The U.S. industry has demonstrated its ability to compete in the South American market, especially when not facing the intense disadvantage of a strong U.S. dollar. U.S. beef/beef variety meat exports to South America increased from just $6 million in 2003 to a record of $118.45 million in 2014, before slipping to $94.7 million in 2015.

Free trade agreements in key markets such as Chile, Peru and Colombia have helped expand U.S. exports to South America. The U.S. and Brazil have no such agreement, but Brazil’s import duties (10% to 12%) are not prohibitive.

Borror notes that while Brazil has been anxious to gain expanded access to the U.S. for some time, penetrating the U.S. market won’t necessarily be easy. Once fresh/frozen Brazilian beef is cleared for import into the United States, it will mainly compete with imported product from Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay for a share of the lean manufacturing beef market.

Brazil does not have a country-specific designation like these other suppliers, so it will compete for space in the 64,805 mt “others” quota. Within this quota, imports from Brazil will be subject to a 4.4 cents per kilogram duty rate. If this quota is filled, out-of-quota imports entering the U.S. will face a 26.4 percent tariff.

“Brazil will certainly be an interesting addition to the list of countries supplying the U.S. market, and one that’s likely to make an impact,” Borror said. “But U.S. import demand depends on a number of factors, and there is a good chance Brazil will displace existing suppliers rather than generate a significant increase in total U.S. imports.” 

Data sources: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Global Trade Atlas

Joe Schuele is vice president, communications, with the U.S. Meat Export Federation in Denver, Colo.

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Does the Yield Grade system need updating?

Does the Yield Grade system need updating?

Despite major advances in beef production and processing technology, yield grading of beef carcasses is determined today using an archaic system developed in the early 1960s, says a leading meats scientist at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, Texas.

Ty Lawrence, WTAMU professor and director of its Beef Carcass Research Center, says the outdated system was based on slaughter statistics of only 162 cattle with a carcass weight ranging from 350 to 900 pounds.

He reviewed the yield grading system during a recent Feeding Quality Forum sponsored partly by Certified Angus Beef. Lawrence says that while genetics, technology, management and consumer expectations have changed, yield grading has not.

For example, the National Research Council (NRC) has revised nutrient requirement standards for fed cattle eight times the past 50 years. “However, yield grading has not changed at all,” he says.

“The single landmark study of beef yield estimation that was reported in 1960 is still used today. The study used data on cattle born in the 1950s. Cattle were much shorter in stature and lighter in weight. The dominant breed of the period was a Hereford. Today, the beef carcass is probably heavier than the live animal back then.”

Camera grading has helped by improving repeatability, but it is still based on the outdated yield grading standards. Lawrence has several suggestions as to how a revamped yield grading system may look:

  • Separate beef type and dairy type cattle, or use of a new system that predicts yield of both.
  • Represent current carcass weights.
  • Represent the entire carcass yield, not just the round, loin, rib and chuck, as has been done since the ‘60s.
  • Estimate kidney-pelvic-heart fat weight consistently or remove it from the yield estimate.
  • Measure grades based on a linear transformation.

“In the current system, when Yield Grade (YG) moves from 3.99 to 4.0, there is about a $15 per cwt discount,” Lawrence says, “but how much did yield really change? The actual change in fabrication yield is approximately 0.2 pounds for a 900-pound carcass, yet the discount is $135.”

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is seeking comments on what’s needed in a revised grading system. Lawrence has been asked to comment and he encourages producers, feeders and others to take advantage of this opportunity to recommend better methods of determining beef quality and yield grading.

Add your comment to the discussion here.

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Ranchers beware: The war over water will only grow more intense

Irrigation water
<p>Life-giving water irrigates alfalfa field</p>

One of my earliest childhood memories is a picture of an area farmer on the front page of our local newspaper. He was dead, lying next to several siphon tubes running water to a corn field. His brother killed him. Their argument? Water.

Indeed, humans have known from the dawn of time that who controls the water controls their destiny. As more and more productive ag land becomes converted from growing grass and grain to sprouting houses and lawns, convenience stores and strip malls, the argument over who will control the water and how it will be used will only grow more strident.

But now, the war is fought with lawyers and checkbooks instead of clubs, spears and guns.

Into this environment jumps The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), which released a report summarizing a survey of irrigated agricultural producers in the Columbine state about leasing their water. 

Colorado’s state-wide water plan estimates Colorado's population of 5.4 million could nearly double to 10 million by 2060. The plan estimates that the increased demand for water could result in the loss of as much as one-fourth of Colorado’s irrigated agricultural land through the purchase and transfer of water rights from agriculture to urban areas. Such large scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts, CCA says.

To minimize 'buying and drying' of irrigated agricultural land, the Colorado water plan emphasizes water conservation, increased storage, and temporary leasing of ag water as the means for closing the projected water supply/demand gap. Irrigated fields may be fallowed or under-irrigated to “free up” consumptive use water for temporary leasing for municipal, industrial, recreational, environmental or other uses, according to CCA.

Findings of the survey include:  

  • About two-thirds of respondents expressed interest in leasing ag water.
  • Income diversification was seen as the greatest potential advantage of leasing water.
  • Reduced total delivery was preferred over rotational fallowing or deficit irrigation as a means of generating consumptive use water for leasing.
  • There is concern that ag water rights could be put in jeopardy if they are leased for other uses.
  • Acceptable lease rates will vary with location.
  • Ag producers expressed concern about the impact of temporary fallowing on soil quality.
  • Given a choice, respondents preferred leasing their water rights over selling by a 20:1 margin.
  • More research is needed on cropping system and soil quality under reduced or fallow irrigation. 

Is leasing irrigation water for urban use an option? It’s hard to say, at least at this juncture. But it makes sense; and it makes more sense than selling your water rights to the highest bidder.

Take a drive through Colorado’s South Park to see what I mean. Denver, in its unquenchable thirst for water, many years ago started buying water rights from ranchers in the region. What was once very productive hay land and pasture now is dry and brown for most of the year, and cows are fewer and farther between than I remember from my youth.

Is that a barometer for the future of ranching in the arid West? Only if we let it.

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