Happy New Year 2019!

NovCalf3

A nice group of calves coming through the barnyard on the way to a new pasture with their mothers.

This year could sure be better than last year, hands down. The cattle business, at least this source end of it, has stayed remarkably stable through 2018 and is projected to hold, given good export markets.

Things are starting to happen with animal traceability in the U.S. That also means to me that people will know where their beef comes from at the consumer end. It’s interesting to read the feeder-packer end of the business saying traceability is all about disease discovery (so authorities can find the source of an infected animal, as in the Mad Cow Disease scare in early 2000s) — nothing to do with labels at the grocery store.

Well, I think, if we are able to trace a calf back to farm of birth, consumers will want to have access to that information through labeling as well. There seems no way a marketing and consumer-centric food industry would mask origin if it is easily discoverable.

Feeders and packers want to be able to import beef and label it as USA with a slight-of-hand at the packer. Right now they can either cut an entire imported carcass, or even just repackage a portion, and call it USA beef. They like that because they can work the global market for best prices — for best profits.

In the mean time, cow/calf operations are only able to get a “leveled” price for genuine domestic beef, probably based somewhat on the premium export market — not domestic supply. In 2015, when U.S. beef supply could not meet demand, and feeders/packers were competing, cow/calf operations realized an exceptionally good year with prices supposed to continue until 2017. Well, the market crashed because packers/feeders could import beef for less — and they did with abandon.

So, you say, all businesses have their ups and downs. That’s true, but at the bottom of the beef business, where cow/calf operations live, the “leveled” price extrapolated from top of the complex, has been just enough to operate through 2018 and into 2019.

I would like to have everyone know when they have Lucas Farms beef on their table because I know the animal was raised with care on an environmentally sensitive ranch. That is an important decision point when choosing beef at the grocery store.

Right now labeling that says “USA” on the beef package is a lie.

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