Special Report: The Future of Beef - KOAM TV 7

Special Report: The Future of Beef


It's a cold winter's day in Mulberry, Kansas and all is quiet on the land, for the most part.

"Today we picked up two baby calves to bring them in," said Mick Massa, a Kansas cattle rancher. "It's cold. We got 'em over to warm up. We're going to feed em and bring em over to their moms tonight."

Mick Massa raises cattle for meat production. A third-generation farmer, much of the land he owns has been in his family. The rest is part of new acquisitions, as his business has expanded over the years.

Kansas is one of the top cattle producing states in the US, as is neighboring Missouri.

It's cattle, like Massa's, that ultimately supplies beef for the US and the world.

"We're looking at a global economy," said Massa. "The people all around the world are starting to eat better."

What Massa is describing is the appetite for beef. Large countries such as China have been increasing their importation of the protein, causing the demand in the US, the world's largest supplier, to swell. But there have been other reasons for an increase in demand: a decrease in herd size.

"We're short," said Jackie Moore, co-owner of Joplin Regional Stockyards. "The draught over the last three four years in the southwest and here over the last couple years and now we're seeing a drought coming back from Nebraska and the Dakotas."

The draught Moore describes has caused many local ranchers to make drastic decisions, including selling off and relocating parts of their herds.

Statistics show, cattle inventory has dropped by two percent since 2013, making for the lowest number of cattle since the 1950s.

"I don't think we'll ever get back near the numbers we once had," said Moore. "It's a concern that we 'we'll never have the amount of beef to contend with that we once had. It's not ever going to go back there.

The low numbers has raised the price of cattle, making for record-high profitability for farmers and brokers. In turn, the cost of cattle is affecting the sticker price for the consumer.

"It's a worry to me that we're going to lost some of our customers to other proteins," said Moore.

While these stressors are a concern, the ranchers we spoke to say they focus on putting out a quality party. Something that Massa says that many outside the industry are unaware of the effort it takes.

"A lot of people don't realize how their food comes to them," said Massa "The vast majority don't realize what it has to go through to get to the store."

Cattle auctioneer Bailey Moore agrees. He says one concern for the future of cattle ranching is a lack of awareness among younger generations.

"The kids growing up in the schools, they don't understand our products and what we do for a living."

Cattle ranching has always been hard work, but amidst the fluctuation of supply, demand and profitability, the drive for the local cow farmer remains.

"Everything we do in this industry is because we love to do it," said Bailey Moore. "We raise cattle because we love to do it. We take care of the land because we love to do it."

"This is my passion," said Massa. "It's what I've always done. It's what I like. I'd rather work hard at something I enjoy than not work hard at something I didn't enjoy."



There's something about beef.

"If you see you're old friend, you don't want to say 'hey I want to take you out for a chicken breast,' you want to take someone out for a steak if you really appreciate something they've done for you," said Corbitt Wall, USDA Federal State Market News Service.

From filets to sirloins, beef has found its way on American's plates for centuries. In 2013, US producers harvested 43.4 billion pounds of beef under USD inspection, totaling cash receipts of $67.9 billion.. 

But recently, this popular protein has cost more for the consumer.

"The more drought we have, the higher the prices go," said Andrew Cramer, manager of Cramer's Rangeline Meat Co..

Cramer talks of the dry conditions in the cattle producing areas of the US, causing herd sizes to shrink. So far in 2014, the number of cattle has dropped to the lowest it's been since 1951.

"At the start of 2014, all classes of calves and yearlings feeder cattle, all-time records highs," said Wall. "All classes of fat cattle, fed cattle and fed steers and heifers and beef from fed steers and heifers at an all-time record high."

This affects the price of meat at the grocery store and a cost of a dinner out.

According to the USDA, Americans could pay up to four percent more for beef in 2014, following a two percent increase last year.

Wilder's Steak House owner Marsha Pawlus thinks this will affect how much--and how often--people eat beef. She says it could also lead consumers to purchase more affordable proteins.

"There's going to be a whole lot of people who look at that $20, and think I spent $20, I can get all this chicken or all this pork as opposed to that beef," said Pawlus. "I can feed my family longer as opposed to that one meal."

"I think we can get stuff too high," said Wall. "If these steak houses have to go in and reprint their menus, they are not going to reprint them for just a dollar or two higher."

Pawlus says there will likely always be an increase in the price of beef. but she hopes the desire to consume the meat will remain, even if it means having it less often.

"We are in a steak and potato world," said Pawlus. "There are a lot of people of course that are off the potatoes now, and you have your vegetarians and vegans, but most of us enjoy a good juicy steak and I don't see it going away."

Others feel the market will even out.

"In the long run, I'm not too concerned," said Cramer. "The way the prices have gone, I've seen them go up and I've seen them go down."

CattleFax, a beef industry service, projects 2014 to be a rebuilding year for many herds, but for beef production to decline more than 800 million pounds from 2013 and for retail prices to continue to rise.

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