Fewer corn acres

High nitrogen costs and strong soybean prices have forced a shrinking in corn acreage for 2008. According to USDA's March 31 “Prospective Plantings” report, producers intend to plant 18% more soybean acres this spring and 8% fewer corn acres.

After a 2007 that saw the most corn acres planted in the U.S. since 1944, growers say they'll plant a total of 86 million acres of corn in 2008. Meanwhile, U.S. soybean producers intend to plant 74.8 million acres in 2008, 1% below the record high of 2006.

In addition, hay acres — at 60.6 million acres — will be down by 2% from 2007, while wheat will be up 6% at 63.8 million acres. Cotton — at 9.39 million acres — will be 13% off the 2007 pace, while sorghum acreage will be down from 7.7 million in 2007 to 7.4 million acres in 2008.

Heat-stress model

USDA's Agricultural Research Service has developed a heat-stress model to help cattlemen predict days of greater heat-stress risk for cattle and humans. The online model, developed by researchers at the Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, NE, is updated twice daily and makes predictions for South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, eastern Colorado, eastern New Mexico and northern Texas. It analyzes weather forecast information, assesses the danger of incurring heat stress and displays that data as a color-coded map. For more, go to www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=16750.

USDA pumps TB funding

USDA is pumping $16.8 million in emergency funding into the bovine tuberculosis (TB)-eradication efforts in California, Michigan and Minnesota. The funding will be used to depopulate known TB-affected cattle herds and indemnify producers, as well as for enhanced surveillance. The enhanced surveillance will include free-ranging, white-tailed deer in Minnesota and Michigan, a possible source of the disease.

Economics and consumers

High energy costs and a perceived slumping economy are changing consumer shopping and dining habits, according to a national online poll of 1,147 consumers in November 2007. The third annual report, “The Power of Meat — An In-Depth Look at Meat Through Shoppers' Eyes,” found respondents dining more at home and increasingly concerned over the cost of meat.

But the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute study found meat continues to be a staple of U.S. dinner tables. The average family sits down to five dinners/week at home, with an average of 4.2 including a meat item. Chicken and beef are the top meat choices, with more than 80% eating chicken and beef at least once weekly. More than 34% eat chicken and beef at least three times weekly.

Consumers ranked price per pound as the most important factor when selecting meat — averaging a 4.6 on a scale from 1 to 6. This was up from 2006 and 2007. And the vast majority compares meat prices before selection and purchase.

Benefits of growth promotants

Research by the Hudson Institute for Global Food Issues not only confirms the cost and efficiency benefits of growth promotants, but concludes such products used in feedyard cattle reduce greenhouse-gas emissions compared with a grass-based finishing system.

“Eco-benefits wise, we can produce basically three times as much beef per given unit of land with grain finishing with the aid of growth promotants,” says Alex Avery. And grain-finished, implanted cattle produce around 40% less greenhouse gas.

That's because feeding implanted, or even non-implanted cattle, reduces the amount of time it takes to get the beef to market.

“If we look at the land-use equation from the amount of acre-days that are needed to produce 1 lb. of beef, an organic grass-fed system required just over five acre-days of land to produce 1 lb. of beef,” Avery says. “Just about two acre-days (were required) for 1 lb. of beef produced with grain finishing without growth promotants, and only 1⅔ acre-days for 1 lb. of beef produced with grain finishing with growth promotants.”

Cattle finished on a grass-based system produced twice as much enteric methane during the finishing phase, he says, compared with grain-fed animals with growth promotants. “That's because, when an animal digests grass, it's harder to digest than grain,” he says.

To see the entire report, go to www.cgfi.org/pdfs/nofollow/beef-eco-benefits-paper.pdf.