Ranchers transferred several hundred yearling steers along Nebraska Highway 92 on a 40 plus mile cattle drive over three days to summer grass in Tryon on May 17, 2018. The McNutt family has made this a tradition as this year marks the 50th annual cattle drive.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call to rein in beef consumption in our nation’s biggest city has triggered complaints from the U.S. beef sector and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. De Blasio’s Green New Deal would reduce beef purchases by 50 percent at all New York City-controlled facilities including schools, correctional facilities and hospitals. The city also would phase out all purchases of processed meat products by municipal agencies.
Supporters of the policy — which Ricketts termed a “War on Beef” — express concern about the environmental effect from cattle production, a growing theme in activist circles. Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, responds that “the truth, which is backed by peer-reviewed science, is that U.S. beef producers are producing far more beef with fewer inputs and contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions than what they are blamed for.”
Nebraska rightly prides itself on its high-quality beef. The state’s annual beef sales top $6 billion with an estimated total economic impact of $12.1 billion. Iowa producers’ total yearly sales exceed $4 billion and have an overall economic impact of $6.8 billion.
Recent years generally have been positive for many beef producers in terms of prices, and it’s important that producers have a realistic understanding of the challenges as well as the opportunities ahead.
Americans’ consumption of beef likely is reaching its peak, says beef-sector analyst Will Sawyer, with CoBank, a Colorado bank specializing in agricultural needs. A new report from CoBank concludes that U.S. producers will need to look abroad: “With limited future upside for domestic consumption, and with higher economic and consumption growth abroad, the U.S. animal protein sectors must increasingly look to international markets for growth.” Increased exports are imperative “if U.S. producers are to expand output in the coming years.”
Future global demand fortunately is expected to be robust. Globally, 140 million to 170 million people now move annually into middle-class economic status, giving a powerful boost to meat demand. The U.S. beef sector has responded accordingly with a sharp increase in the percentage of U.S. beef sold abroad since 2004, when concerns about mad cow disease sent overseas sales plummeting. In 2006, 4 percent of U.S. beef was exported; last year, it was just under 12 percent.