RadioNZ reports the US beef herd numbers are at an all time low:
Numbers peaked at 132 million head of cattle in 1975. At the start of this year this was down to just under 91 million.
Across the US, cattle are sometimes housed in feedlots to be fattened for slaughter. These huge operations on average contain around 3000 animals have also suffered a significant drop in numbers, down around 12.5% on last year.
So what is going on?
There are long term factors in terms of profitability and rising costs but what’s really pushing the decline right now is a potent mix of environmental issues and politics. . .
These factors have been compounded by drought. It will rain again one day, the impact of environmental and political issues will be harder to get over.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had a mandate in place since 2005 that requires a certain percentage of US liquid fuel comes from renewable sources.
In practice this means blending ethanol made from grain with regular gasoline. This year, as the drought persisted, desperate farmers asked the EPA to set the mandate aside to help cut corn prices.
They refused and this year ethanol production will consume a whopping 42% of the corn crop, says the US Department of Agriculture.
It is difficult to understand how fuel takes precedence over food in a hungry world.
Dr Stan Bevers from Texas A&M University say the US beef industry was built on abundant corn supplies, so the cattle industry must adjust and get smaller.”
According to Dr Derrell Peel, from the University of Oklahoma the current problems could have long term impacts on US beef. He thinks it is likely there will be changes in how cattle are fed. Less grain, more grass, and lighter cattle.
Housing animals or having them in feedlots makes it easier to deal with effluent but it is a very inefficient way of converting grass to protein.
The New Zealand free range grazing system is much more efficient and the decline in beef herds in the USA could provide opportunities for us.