It is the time of year to make resolutions and beef producers are no exception, says John Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator,
"Every business needs to set aggressive goals for improvement to remain competitive and profitable in today's challenging economy, says Grimes. "This is especially true for the beef industry in the United States. While price prospects for most segments of the beef cattle industry look promising for 2014, we can't afford to become complacent and be satisfied with the status quo."
Here are Grimes New Year's resolutions for the industry.
Increase the U.S. supply of beef cattle.
According to Cattle-Fax, the nation's beef cowherd will be at 29 million head on Jan. 1, 2014. That's a decline of 6 million cows since 1995. Market prices have encouraged producers to consider expansion and drought relief in larger geographical areas across the country is allowing some increase in numbers to actually become a reality. However, this large decline in numbers has occurred over many years and the rebuilding process will take time.
The job of increasing beef cattle numbers in the U.S. will be a daunting task. Producers will continue to struggle with the decision between selling high-priced heifer calves as feeders versus retaining heifers to build herd numbers. Improving conception rates and percent calf crop weaned can also help increase numbers to help increase supplies.
Improve the quality of our product in the eyes of the consumer.
Retail beef prices once again reached record-high levels once again in 2013. Tight cattle supplies will keep prices high again in 2014. Consumer demand for beef has been strong through these times of higher prices. However, the sluggish U.S. economy will limit the consumers' spending budgets and may force them to consider cheaper protein sources. If we expect consumers to spend their hard-earned dollars on beef, the entire industry must insure that our beef product is of the highest quality.
Use forages more efficiently.
Examine any beef cow budgets available from Extension or industry and you will find that the single greatest expense associated with cow-calf production is feed costs. The primary component of feed costs for most operations will be forages (hay and pasture). In order to increase our chances at profitability, the cow-calf producer must reduce feed costs and this can be done most effectively through aggressive management of our forages.
If you are going to be in the cow-calf business for the long haul, now would be an excellent time to evaluate your cattle handling facilities and make necessary improvements. A functional, well-designed system can result in better herd health management and minimize physical risks to the animal handler. I realize that the size and part-time nature of many operations makes it difficult for many owner/operators to commit significant dollars to facility improvement. However, I believe that many proven management practices are underutilized simply because of a lack of facilities. What could you do differently in your operation if you improved a corral working system, added a new water source, constructed a few extra holding pens around the barn, or subdivided a pasture?
Improving facilities ties directly to a "hot button" issue facing today's beef producer. In light of developments in Ohio and across the nation over the past several years, we cannot ignore the animal welfare issue. Certainly good facilities can lead to animal performance benefits from improved animal treatment programs. However, quite possibly the most significant benefit to be gained from improved facilities is the safe and humane treatment of the animal itself. You may not have regular visitors to your operation observing you working cattle through your facilities. However, today's food consumer is better informed and they truly want to know more about how their food is produced. They are "watching" how we handle our animals.
Speak out and defend our honor.
It is more important than ever that we educate the non-farm public about how we go about feeding the public. When you have the opportunity to challenge myths or correct misconceptions about the beef industry with a member of the non-farm public, do you take advantage of the opportunity? The beef industry boasts many unique production systems including traditional grain-fed, grass-fed, hormone-free, all-natural, etc. that can meet the diverse demands of today's consumer.
We need to remind consumers that all of these systems are necessary to meet needs of a hungry world. I personally do not believe we can feed a hungry world in the future without using modern technology to maximize the production of safe and wholesome food. However, we need a variety of production systems to offer the consumer choices as to how they spend their food dollars.