What happened to those times when farmers turned the bull in with the cow, helped with the calving, sent the calf to the sale barn and lived happily ever after?

Agriculture is a lot more complex than that nowadays, says Dave Whitson, a University of Missouri Outreach and Extension farm-management specialist, in Neosho.

"There have been a lot of revolutions in agriculture during the past 40 years. For example, the poultry and swine industries have changed drastically," he said.

So where will the cattle industry be next?

Independent cattle producers are getting involved in some new marketing strategies called "alliances" to maintain more control over their investments, to keep them from sinking the way of poultry and swine, Whitson says.

"I remember when my mom and a whole lot of others had a hundred or so laying hens and raised a hundred or so frying chickens for additional cash and home use," Whitson said. "In fact, that brooder house was filled more than once a year with a hundred chicks. Some were consumed and some were sold, and the money was used to send my sisters to nurses training and business school, as well as other family necessities."

Then, says Whitson, all of a sudden, the industry changed. Now, many states are all but void of any independent-producer poultry operations. Now, it is commercially integrated, from ownership of the birds to delivery to retail stores.

"Next came the swine industry. I was one that said it would not go the way of poultry, but it is taking place right now, and no amount of government regulation is likely going to stop the progression," he said.

But a little help may be on the way for the beef industry, in the form of marketing alliances.

Whitson says he recently attended a conference and heard "a powerful presentation" from an agricultural-marketing expert who said all sectors of agriculture are approaching a Y in the road, and the question is whether farmers will take the direction of ownership or contract production--and that is where alliances among the farmers may help.

"It was pointed out that 25% of the orders for retail beef at the meat departments don't get filled. We are eating out more, and restaurants want Choice or better beef. In fact, about 50% of our food dollars are spent eating out," Whitson said. "And right now, only 46% of the beef that is slaughtered grades Choice or better. Retail stores can't get as many Choice sirloin, rib and T-bone steaks as they would like."

Whitson says the speaker indicated that producers don't need to own the slaughter plants, but they do need to produce beef for an "end market"--and own that beef through the market chain.

"A new program the University of Missouri Commercial Agriculture Department is working with is the Missouri Premier Beef Marketing Program. This program provides an alliance for producers of similar types of animals to join together to market those animals in large lots directly to the feedlots. Some groups are choosing to retain ownership of the animals," he said.

"While there are hopes of retaining more income at the farm level, one of the major benefits of this program has been for the producers to follow their animals through the feedlot to slaughter and see what type of meat they are producing," he said.

Whitson says more information about the program is available from livestock specialists at county University of Missouri Outreach and Extension centers, or call him, at 417-455-9500.

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