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While rising market prices will typically spur an increase in herd inventories — 2023
has seen remarkably high prices for beef, rising more than 25 percent above 2022 numbers
— high input costs have largely undercut that impulse, Mitchell said.
By Ryan McGeeneyU of A System Division of Agriculture
July 28, 2023
(735 words)(Newsrooms: With graphic)
LITTLE ROCK — Beef cattle inventories in the United States are at record low numbers,
according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report issued earlier in July.
USDA’s Cattle Inventory report, released each July, gives a snapshot of the cattle
industry on a national scale. A similar report, released each January, breaks numbers
down on a state-by-state basis. According to the most recent report, the U.S. cattle
industry in aggregate has reduced its inventory by 3 percent to 95.9 million head,
the lowest since 2014. The inventory of beef cows in particular fell to 29.4 million
head, 3 percent lower than the January 2022 inventory and the lowest number on record
since 1971, when USDA began collecting such data.
James Mitchell, extension livestock economist for the University of Arkansas System
Division of Agriculture, said the overall decline in inventory was expected, propelled
by two well-known factors: the high cost of production and drought.
“It seems like every time drought abates in one part of the country, it pops up somewhere
else,” Mitchell said. “Two years ago, we had a terrible drought in the western part
of the country — Colorado, Montana, Wyoming. Last year that drought moved over the
plains states, from North Dakota all the way down to Texas. Currently, that drought
has moved either farther east, so it’s hitting Missouri and Iowa.
“It’s shifted east, and impacted producers’ ability to retain heifers and to grow
their herds,” he said.
Arkansas producers, while more or less in the same fight as everyone else, have at
least managed to avoid the worst of the country’s drought effects, Mitchell said.
“Knock on wood, we’re pretty fortunate in the southeast right now, in that we have
largely avoided multi-year long-term drought, while other parts of the country haven’t
been so lucky,” he said.
“Higher prices generally mean that people should think about rebuilding their herds,”
he said. “But we don’t make decisions based on prices, we make decisions based on
profit. Currently, we’re seeing prices we haven’t seen since 2014, 2015 — but then,
those higher prices translated to higher profits, because we weren’t battling the
high input cost situation that we are today.
“We’re not going to see the same rate of expansion that we saw 10 years ago, because
the profits aren’t there,” he said. “I think we’re going to see higher prices for
a sustained period of time because nationally, the profits aren’t there for us to
start building back herds.”
Mitchell said that in the current economic climate, profitability will hinge on producers’
“When you’ve got high cattle prices, the profits are going to go to those who are
best at managing their costs,” he said. “If you can manage those correctly, there
are profits to be made.”
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division
of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu/. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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