Export markets not only frustrated cattlemen all year long but dominated the headlines in 2006, making it the leading issue for the year.

“Cattlemen rode an emotional roller coaster all year regarding the export market for beef,” said Ross Wilson, president and CEO of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA). “We got Japan back, then lost it, then got it back again. And South Korea announced it was open for business, then proceeded to prove otherwise by rejecting three shipments of U.S. beef after x-ray inspections found bone chips, some smaller than a grain of rice.”

While reopening export markets for U.S. beef was a top priority for the cattle industry this year, it wasn’t the only issue cattlemen faced. High corn prices, driven by ethanol demand, and a widespread and pervasive drought created a year of management challenges for cattlemen. Here are the top 10 news stories that made headlines this year:

1. Export markets frustrated cattleman all year long. South Korea rejected three shipments of U.S. beef over a few bone chips. Japan suspended beef trade with the U.S. in January after the market had been open for only six weeks. Japan didn’t reopen its market to U.S. beef again until June and limited trade has resumed.

2. Corn prices, driven by an increase in ethanol production, reached near historic highs, which drove up cost of gain and breakevens for fed cattle.

3. Drought gripped much of the U.S., and because of dry pastures, the anticipated herd expansion was slowed considerably.

4. Environmental issues challenged cattlemen. EPA adopted new regulations for airborne dust which didn’t include an ag exemption that was part of earlier versions. Cattlemen also battled to convince Congress that manure is not a Superfund issue.

5. The beef checkoff turned 20 in 2006. In addition, the Industry-Wide Beef Checkoff Task Force released its recommendations, which proposed four major points for the industry to consider as it works to strengthen the program.

6. The industry continued to debate the value of animal ID and USDA announced the program would continue as a voluntary effort.

7. The beef industry wrestled with immigration reform in Congress, telling lawmakers that agriculture needs an improved and streamlined citizenship process, tamper-proof documentation that employers can rely on and a viable guest worker program.

8. The beef industry mounted a major effort to kill the Death Tax. While it passed the House, it fell three votes short in the U.S. Senate.

9. The beef industry strongly opposed a horse slaughter bill that passed the U.S. House. Congress will likely reconsider the legislation in 2007.

10. Smithfield Beef Group and ContiGroup Companies announced plans to build a packing plant in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Work is expected to begin in January.