Crystal ball gazing is always a chancy thing, but these industry experts offer their thoughts on what the future might bring for the cattle industry.
It’s a moving target, the cattle industry. Not only does a rancher today have to deal with all the challenges that have always faced cattle producers, but he or she has to balance a growing list of genetic, management and business decisions as well.
Here’s what five experts in the cattle industry think the future will hold for producers in 10-15 years:
Matt Spangler, beef cattle geneticist, University of Nebraska-Lincoln –
"If we look at system efficiency and how we combine genetics, what has escaped the beef industry thus far is the development and utilization of terminal and maternal lines. I think if we can master that, which is no small task, we gain a tremendous amount of efficiency. Then, within those respective lines, I think there’s a lot we can select for: terminal traits, marbling, yield, and then cowherd efficiency and more relevant maternal traits.
"We’re just scratching the surface of how to utilize genomic information. The Holy Grail thus far is how we can utilize that in crossbred animals for management decisions and being able to pay value for value.
"Then being able to utilize that kind of information to truly refine our crossbreeding systems. That’s something we haven’t considered. We’ve talked about, but not really delved into, using genomics to develop our crossbreeding systems. But start off by doing some of the simple things. That’s the frustration. We want to move forward so badly, and we haven’t mastered yet some of the simple things that have been around for decades."
Newley Hutchison, Chain Ranch, Canton, OK –
"Money drives us; we’ve got to keep money in our checking account. We look at a set of calves and there’s $400 difference in the carcasses – that makes us pay attention. We’re working toward an electronic ID system at chute-side. We’re tagging all those calves and we’re going to try to figure out what crosses within the breeds are making us the most money. Which of those heifers that we retain will stay in our herd the longest? I don’t know how we’re going to manage that. A chute-side computer threw a lot of our cowboys completely off. But we’re weighing all the calves at weaning and starting that data collection on different breeds of crossbreeds to see which ones are more profitable and efficient. "
Tom Brink, JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding –
"Sometimes in this industry, we look at our faults and we forget to talk about our strengths. But our strengths are phenomenal. The top 10-15% of the cattle we feed are adding $200 at the feedyard and packer level in profit over the average. That’s a phenomenal accomplishment and that’s exciting.
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"That top 10% right now will be the average in 10 years, maybe 15 years, however long it takes. That’s very impressive and the technology is there to do that. What are those cattle in the top 10-15%? I’d bet you some are straightbreds and some are crossbreds. They’ve just been produced by people who have worked very hard on putting together, mating after mating, year after year, the very best genetics they can find. They’ve got a phenomenal product that is contributing to the success of the whole industry."
Mike Kasten, Mike Kasten Beef Alliance, Millersville, MO –
"I think the next 10 years, we’re really going to start identifying cattle. We’re going to find cattle in a number of breeds that will do what we’re talking about. Then we can start working those into a system where we can produce the kind of product that really pays us some value.
"We have cattle that are going to get there. We have cattle where that’s the norm and can do that in a much more efficient and profitable way. And as we identify those in all breeds, I think we can move forward a lot quicker than we have in the past. And we have the technology to do that."
Nevil Speer, Western Kentucky University –
"I’m not sure we’re going to be having this conversation about “the industry” 10-15 years from now. I think we’re going to continue to segregate our cattle to become increasingly programmed – the right cattle, at the right time and at the right place. We’re not going to be talking about some solution that fits every producer."
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