Cattle producers attend open house focused on the market, increasing efficiency, transparency
August 25, 2017
An economist with the Livestock Marketing Information Center expects feeder calf prices to remain stable, as beef producers continue herd expansion.
Jim Robb told producers during the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory Open House last week that producers are still expanding the cattle herd, but at a slower rate. He said heifer slaughter numbers are high enough that commercial producers may be slowing expansion. Robb projects the USDA cattle inventory to be up 1 percent on Jan. 1, 2018.
Robb sees the drought in the northern states as a potential problem for the U.S. cattle market. "It could be key to where the cattle cycle heads because 20 percent of the U.S. cowherd is in that drought zone," he said. Although more cows are being culled because of the drought, Robb said cull cow prices are holding steady mostly because of the lack of beef coming from Australia. "The import market is down, mostly because of Australia," he said. "It has impacted the cow market, and we expect that will continue."
"On the other hand, the export market has been super this year," Robb told producers. "We had our second best year in terms of tonnage. The key has been Japan, but it is still up in the air how the tariff they are placing on U.S. beef will impact us." He said the Japanese tariff was imposed because Japan was getting too much beef. "It only impacts frozen product, and we mostly send them fresh beef," he said. Japan is a huge buyer of short plates, which are not in high demand in the U.S. "If we can't ship them to Japan, we can still grind them into hamburger and use them here," he added.
Despite concerns with Japanese exports, Robb said a new high may be set in 2018 for exports. "The export market is the key to where we were last October, and where we are now," he said. However, the renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the threat of a federal government shutdown could impact the market, he warned.
On the other hand, the opening of the Chinese market to U.S. beef will also have an impact, Robb said. U.S. producers will need to have their cattle source and age verified, beta agonist-free and hormone-free to qualify. "You should be thinking of how you will fit into that," he said. "It isn't like packers can just go into their coolers and pull out beef that meets these requirements. It will take some forward planning."
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Consumers in the U.S. are also looking for beef that is more segmented than what packers can sort for. Robb said this is becoming more prevalent for beef producers in the future.
Research specialists with the University of Nebraska briefly shared current research projects underway.
Rick Funston, a beef specialist, talked about the research the university is conducting at North Platte, exploring the Grow Safe feeding system to measure feed intake. The purpose of the study is to help producers determine where they can get the biggest payout based on their management strategies.
A second project focuses on different calving times to determine how to reduce costs based on what the cattle are fed. During the research, some cattle were placed in a system of year-around grazing and may or may not receive supplements. Funston said they generated a lot of different phenotypes from the genotype.
Calving date also impacted breed-back, the study showed. Funston showed producers where cows in this system that were bred in March had 20 percent higher pregnancy rates than cows bred in May.
Jerry Volesky, forage specialist with the University of Nebraska, shared some preliminary findings from grazing research projects underway at the Barta Brothers Ranch. The first study measures the impact on forage growth from utilizing different grazing periods. In the study, the grazing period varied from a season-long program of 150 days, a 37 day four-pasture deferred system, and a three-day, 50-pasture rotation. For each of these systems, a moderate and heavy stocking rate was used. The study, which has lasted the last eight years, shows that the end of the year stubble height was better on all treatments with a moderate stocking rate, Volesky said. "We did see some changes in the plant communities," he said.
Rob Eirich, Beef Quality Assurance specialist at the University of Nebraska, shared the latest Beef Quality Audit findings with producers. He said the latest audit shows the beef industry still needs to focus on food safety issues. "Farm to plate is important," he said. "Ninety-eight percent of consumers in the U.S. have not been involved in agriculture. We have to be transparent. Be where consumers are, and be willing to talk to them. They have access to more information than ever through social media. We need to tell our story." ❖
— Teresa Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.