Economic prospects look good in the short term for U.S. beef producers, but there is no shortage of challenges ahead.
Members of the BEEF editorial staff gathered last week in Columbia, MS, for our annual exercise of discussing trends in the U.S. beef industry. We editors use the few dedicated days together to discuss what we’re seeing and hearing in the industry and to chat by phone, or visit in person, with various industry experts. The purpose is to arrive at a consensus of sorts on what’s going on in the industry and what and how we should address those issues in the coming year.
In the end, we develop quite a list of perceptions on the industry. Here are just 10, some of which are obvious, some not so obvious, and some just plain interesting.
• As researchers struggle to find sources of funding, commercial sources will step into the breach. Such proprietary research will leave rank-and-file beef producers with less access to new technical and practical production and management information. The result is a growing gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to access to the latest management and production information.
• The U.S. beef industry is providing a more consistent quality beef product, as evidenced by consumers’ continued support of beef despite today’s escalating retail prices. Such production and marketing of specification and branded beef will continue to increase and there will be more vertical cooperation between sectors as the industry continues to strive to produce a high-quality, consistent eating experience.
• The U.S. appears to be immersed in a weather pattern similar to the 1930s and 1950s, with extended drought in some traditional beef production areas and higher precipitation levels in others. This has the potential to affect beef industry demographics by forcing more feeding into the Central Plains and Midwest, and less in the Southern Plains, with more stocker contracting in the Southeast.
• Good prices for at least the next several years, particularly for cow-calf sector, will continue to fuel attempts at expansion. With today’s higher cow production costs and continuing volatility, there will be an increasing need to focus on cost management as well as increasing production. One potential tool in the face of escalating land prices is confinement or semi-confinement of cow-calf production, also known as cow-calf “intensification,” as a way to better manage the health, nutrition and productivity of cattle while holding down capitalization costs and utilizing overcapacity in the feeding sector.
• Expect increasing pressure in the nature and level of regulation in all facets of production – feeding, animal health, welfare and environment.
• The U.S. beef industry will continue to struggle with the challenges of continuing economic uncertainty, as well as the growing influence of globalization, both in terms of export markets and currency exchange.
• Beef is turning the corner on its negative diet/health rap, as science increasingly debunks old perceptions regarding the healthfulness of fats and protein in the diet.
• Growing use of genomics for selection, management and marketing of beef cattle at all production levels.
• As pressure mounts regarding the use of antibiotics, both in human and animal health, management of nutrition as an integral factor in maximizing overall health and immunity of cattle will draw added scrutiny. This will not only apply to live cattle but prenatal nutrition.
• Some old standard challenges remain, such as increased price volatility, a shrinking cash market, an overcapacity in the feeding and packing sectors, and continuing political polarization.
This list is just a start; a “megatrends” overview, if you will, of the landscape that cattlemen will have to operate in for the coming year and longer. But one thing we’ve learned over the decades in the beef business is to expect the unexpected. What do you see as the major trends affecting your operation?
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