U.S. cattle numbers have dropped to their lowest level since 1952 on the heels of record-setting drought that decimated feed supplies and forced producers to cull animals, according to Chris Hurt, Purdue Extension agricultural economist
The numbers, found in the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture inventory report, also show that the U.S. beef cattle herd, specifically, has hit the lowest point since 1962.
Beef cow numbers dropped by 3% last year and are down 11%, or 3.6 million head, since 2007.
"The 2012 drought was the primary driver of the decrease last year as it destroyed pastures and forage supplies and catapulted corn, sorghum and soybean meal prices," Hurt says. "The impacts were largest for producers in the Southern Plains where beef cow numbers dropped by 9% last year, and in the Central Plains where numbers were down 6%."
Since 2007, the beef industry has struggled to compete with other sectors for expensive feed and limited land resources that are being converted to corn and soybean acreage, Hurt says.
While the Central and Southern Plains states have struggled the most, the eastern Corn Belt certainly hasn't been immune to the herd reduction.
Ohio lost 3%, or 10,000, of the state's beef cows in 2012 but has lost only about 2% of the herd overall since 2007.
Stopping the decline is going to take some help from Mother Nature in the forms of more rain and crop production, Hurt says.