Drought of common sense
By Trent Loos
I am writing this from Hank Vogler’s Need More Sheep Company ranch near Ely, Nevada, as I watch cattle and sheep graze on federal lands. I mention that because I do not rescind or back up one step on my past couple of columns about how I see the struggles with federal land ranchers paralleling the right for me to use deeded land. Cliven Bundy found a way to make one final big splash in the news with stupid statements, but that in no way, shape or form deters from the issue that brought the situation to national attention—the erosion of our personal property rights.
Today I want share the plight of the entire beef sector from a different angle. In my 17-hour drive to get here, I heard a nearly continuous stream of news about rising beef prices. Do a News Google search and these headlines top the list:
Beef Prices Hit Record Highs
Through the roof: Beef prices reach highest level since 1987
Higher meat prices show up on restaurant menus
Drought is the only reason provided by any news source as the cause of the price increase. The impact of the 2012 drought is finally being felt by cattlemen from coast to coast. However, anyone who is paying attention knows what is going on with a short supply of cattle and prices per head.
But what about the rest of the story?
Does anybody remember the news blitz about lean finely textured beef?
That is far from the minds of consumers today but even our fine USDA was quick to work against the technology by rejecting its use in school lunch programs. Let me remind you that they created the system to ensure safety in our food supply and then, even with their own oversight, they rejected it without one bit of scientific basis.
As a result of that snowball rolling down the hill, the technology is no longer utilized to its fullest potential, costing us an equivalent of the amount of beef 1.5 million head of cattle would produce! Could that be affecting our beef supply?
In 2013 Jude Capper presented research that told us if we continue down the path of rejecting animal technologies such as beta-agonists, hormones and antibiotics to increase efficiencies, we would again reduce the amount of beef produced annually to the tune of 1.7 million head of cattle.
As sure as I sit here on a ranch that runs cattle and sheep on the range that looks to any traveler passing through to be a whole lot of nothing, it has exactly what is needed if an animal is involved. The number of cows grazing federal lands today is 40 percent of what it once was. In addition, the sheep numbers are currently 5 percent of what they once were.
I have put together my own formula, with the assistance of Hank Vogler, and if federal lands were grazing to their optimum level, they could produce 110 million protein meals annually for domestic consumers. Instead it easy to document that less than 50 million protein meals are raised today and there is pressure to reduce even that number.
Combine all of that with the fact that the cost of production needed to meet government regulations including mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, and you can see how the price will only continue to soar.
In conclusion there is no doubt that drought has played a role in the increase in beef prices, but let’s make sure that we understand that the drought of common sense has an even greater impact on the amount of beef available for sale. The vocal minority continues to impact the direction of food production in the United States instead of the people who are actually involved in making it happen. So if you truly want the price of beef to stay affordable and not be only a luxury food, let the farmer, rancher and food processer make the decisions that are best for the land and the people who work on it.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.