2014 marks the 50th year of publication for BEEF magazine. On the occasion of our 25th anniversary, we asked a handful of industry experts to prognosticate on what the U.S. beef industry might look like in 25 years.

Digging into the time capsule that was our 25th anniversary issue, I found the following thoughts about what the year 2014 held for the U.S. beef industry:

• “$98 feeder cattle and $95 fed cattle.” So said the headline of an article by Ed Uvacek, a longtime columnist for BEEF magazine and a Texas A&M University emeritus professor. Those were some vertigo-inducing figures at a time when feeder cattle were selling around $80 and Choice fed steers hovered at $70. But such prices would be disappointing in today’s market of $170 calves and $130 feds.

• Uvacek also projected beef cow numbers to grow from 33.7 million head in 1989 to 35 million in 2014. In actuality, they headed the other way, matching levels not seen in 50 years.

• U.S. per-capita beef consumption was forecast to rise to 78 lbs. in 2014 from 72.7 lbs. in 1988. It was at 57.5 lbs. in 2012.

Other predictions

Other predictions in the issue included:

• As U.S. society becomes more urban, and with urban/rural problems often at opposite ends of an issue, cattlemen will be subject to more scrutiny.

• We should not elevate issues among a public that doesn’t have the issues as top-of-mind
concerns, especially if those issues are not now reducing beef purchases. We plan for now to continue focusing our information programs on opinion influencers and people in the media.

• Twenty-five years from now, diet will be less an issue that it is today. Our challenge is to ensure that other issues, such as safety, don’t get away from us.

• The message for the future is to produce meat products that excel in quality, palatability and nutrition. To do this, we must devise production and marketing schemes that reward all production levels from seedstock to food processor for superior meat food products.

• When we talk about the future, there’s a whole series of new compounds waiting in the wings. Known as beta-agonists, they are different from anything we’ve used before.

• Packers must tell us what they want and provide incentives for producing the cattle they prefer. Increasingly, we’re going to sell cattle based on true retail value, not on a conglomerate average that disguises inefficiencies.

• We will have faced and gone beyond the issue of animal welfare by the year 2014.

• Concerns for planet Earth will have moved beyond fad and become a way of life. It is conceivable that a measure of impact on the environment will be a marketing tool.

• For the next 25 years, the challenge is to continue making progress in the face of today’s — and tomorrow’s — public perceptions. That is on top of livestock agriculture’s traditional challenge of providing protein at reasonable prices.

• It is reasonable to believe, as cloning technology becomes more efficient and routine, that within a few years it will be possible to produce cloned feeder calves at economical costs. What may be possible in 25 years will probably exceed our wildest dreams today.