Sometimes, picking up a magnifying glass and peering into the future is a good thing. Take the last few years, for instance.

Back in 2010, cattle producers’ short-term optimism, as measured by the annual BEEF Reader Optimism Index (ROI), took a rocket ride from its inaugural 2008 levels. The ROI more than doubled as the picture magnified through the looking glass was one of higher prices and better times. Long-term optimism jumped as well, with factors in the cattle market signaling a long and profitable run — certainly for cow-calf producers and likely for other segments as well.

While the BEEF ROI slipped slightly in 2011 and 2012, it remained well above the magic 100 line, indicating that producers remained very optimistic about both their short- and long-term futures.

Then along comes 2013. According to BEEF magazine’s annual state-of-the-industry survey, the image that readers see this year is a less-than-positive reflection. Long-term optimism dipped to just above 100, and the short-term outlook dipped slightly below the baseline into negative territory.

beef reader optimism survey

Just short of 1,000 reader responses (5.3% response rate) were received to the email survey over the April 15-26, 2013, period. In terms of hard numbers, here’s what the survey says: 53% of respondents say, compared with last year, their level of short-term optimism is about the same for the next two years; 25% are less optimistic in the short term; and 21% are more optimistic.

The numbers didn’t change much when respondents were asked about their long-term outlook — five years and beyond — for the U.S. beef industry, although BEEF readers are slightly more optimistic long-term. Overall, 54% say their outlook is about the same as last year, 25% are more optimistic and 21% are less optimistic.

So, while the majority of respondents are even-minded about the future, there are enough cattle producers who are looking through the magnifying glass darkly to cause a dip in the BEEF ROI this year.