Kentucky Agricultural News


After two generations of progress,
beef producers face new challenges

Agriculture Commissioner James R. Comer

American farmers produce more food on fewer acres with fewer resources than at any time in history. That certainly is true of the nation’s beef cattle industry.

Annual beef production in the U.S. has more than doubled since 1958 while the American cattle herd is the smallest it’s been in more than 50 years, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported earlier this year. Commercial beef production totaled nearly 26.3 billion pounds in 2011 compared with just short of 13 billion pounds in 1958. Average carcass weight advanced from 575 pounds two generations ago to 773 pounds last year, and cattle slaughter grew from 23.6 million head to 32.4 million head in that span, due in part to a feedlot system that has enabled producers to get calves to market in a much shorter time than in the past, the CME said.

Investments in scientific research, animal health, genetic improvements, and production techniques enabled American cattle producers to achieve these astounding gains in productivity and efficiency. Today, new challenges are testing our ability to adapt and innovate.

James R. Comer

The global population is climbing toward an estimated 9 billion by the middle of the century. Farmers in Kentucky and the U.S. are stressed by this year’s drought and heat wave, escalating input costs, and uncertainty about government policies and regulations. Some cattle producers, struggling to feed their herds, may feel pressure to cut back or liquidate. The age of the average U.S. farmer is climbing, and the number of producers is falling.

The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and other organizations and institutions stand ready to help.

The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association serves as your eyes, ears, and voices in Frankfort and Washington. The Kentucky Cattlemen’s Foundation nurtures future generations of Kentucky farmers through programs such as the Kentucky Junior Cattlemen’s Association, the Kentucky Large/Food Animal Veterinary Incentive Program (administered by Kentucky Farm Bureau), and its youth scholarships. The Kentucky Beef Network helps producers become more profitable through education, management, and marketing.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture helps producers find markets for their products through the Kentucky Proud program and conducts youth livestock shows throughout the state. We maintain a forage directory and a hay hotline to help producers who need forages to find others who have forages to sell. The state veterinarian’s office works to keep our livestock free of disease and eradicate outbreaks when they occur. Our regulatory division makes sure you get the feed and fertilizer you paid for.

It’s impossible to know what lies ahead or how much more efficiency we can squeeze out of our operations and our animals. But we have a pretty impressive track record over the past 60 years. And we don’t have to go it alone.