Perhaps the only thing more futile than doing perfectly something that needs not be done is searching high and low for opportunities while ignoring those that already exist.

Consider technology, everything from heterosis, to implants, to artificial insemination (AI), to dewormers. All are proven to return more than the cost when used correctly, yet too many folks still leave them on the shelf.

Consider the 2007-2009 Beef Report from the National Animal Health Monitoring Service (NAHMS).

In terms of pharmaceutical technologies, the NAHMS survey reports that 82% of cow-calf producers used some sort of fly control within the last 12 months. In the 1996 NAHMS survey, producers were asked whether they used dewormers, and 72.8% of respondents at that time said they did. Only 11.9% of cow-calf producers implanted any calves with a growth promotant prior to or at weaning during the previous 12 months.

Yet, those three technologies alone impact the breakeven price 47.2%; production cost increases $274/head if they're not used (Table 1). That's based on the study “Economic Analysis of Pharmaceutical Technologies in Modern Beef Production,” conducted by Iowa State University agricultural economists John Lawrence and Maro Ibarburu. They first conducted the study in 2005, but updated it last fall to account for the dramatic increase in input costs. In 2005, the value per head of the three technologies was $226.

With the same technologies, as well as ionophores and antimicrobials, the difference between using or ignoring the technologies is $95/head in stocker operations ($91 in 2005). Add beta agonists to the list and the value is $155/head in the feedlot ($131 in 2005).

Based on a Food and Agricultural Policy Institute (FAPRI) model of the U.S. beef industry, the elimination of those five technologies alone — by choice or regulation — would result in a smaller calf crop, less U.S. beef production, more U.S. beef imports and higher consumer retail beef prices.

“Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical technologies that improve feed efficiency and/or increase pounds of gain have a larger impact when feed prices are higher than when they're lower,” Lawrence says.

Plus, despite what the world's tree huggers would deceive the public into believing, these kinds of technologies are more beneficial to the environment than producing beef without them.

Consider just one of them.

“Because of the increased production efficiency that growth promotants deliver, conventional beef production systems are three times more land-efficient than organic, grass-only systems, and reduce greenhouse gases by more than 40% in comparison,” says Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues (CGFI). That's based on a recent in-depth environmental impact analysis CGFI conducted, comparing the two systems. Avery explains the reduced carbon footprint has plenty to do with the fact that conventional beef production systems require less land.

It used to be that someone would chide a neighbor: “When you see (insert breed name here) cows running in my pasture, you know I've got the place paid for.” These days you could say the same thing when it comes to leaving technological opportunities to gather dust.

Table 1. Impact of non-use of technologies in cow-calf operations
Technology Cost of production ($/head) Value of technology ($/head)
2005 2007 2005 2007
Growth promotants $511 $616 $28 $34
Dewormers $649 $783 $166 $201
Fly control $498 $600 $15 $18
Using all $709 $857 $226 $274
Source: From “Economic Analysis of Pharmaceutical Technologies in Modern Beef Production in a Bio-economy Era,” available at