Farmer Focus: How I would sort out the low beef price

Hopefully, the US markets are stabilising, although I don’t think this is because of any fundamental change.

The floods have destroyed a lot of grain and finishers are selling animals at lighter weights, but I think it’s because of the current mentality of beef producers.

An old-timer was recently lecturing younger people in the community about how the industry was broken forever.

There are adverts running on agricultural radio stations about freephone numbers for people with mental health issues to call.

See also: Boxed meat beefs up farm margins and keeps it local

Any US Department of Agriculture report is widely criticised and ignored by the majority of producers.

I have been in the hay tractor for hours this month and have given a lot of thought to what the beef sector should do if beef prices keep falling:

  1. Increase the check-off (beef levy) from $1 a head to $3-$5. Every time an animal is sold in the US, a dollar is taken to fund product development and beef advertising. This scheme was implemented in 1985 and we still collect a dollar now.
  2. Remove supply from the market quickly by stopping the use of ionophores and hormones. They are a part of what makes us crushingly efficient, and efficiency is the key factor in sustainability. This would appeal to consumers who think with their heart and not their head, as well as appealing to the EU. The science says they are fine, but it’s an easy way to take kilogrammes out of the system.
  3. Implement a national animal identification system. We started using electronic identification on our ranch to help us write health papers for taking breeding stock across state lines. It was no big deal. To work, this would need private as well as government involvement.

My strategy is fairly straightforward. We would try to increase demand for a verified product that consumers are demanding, rather than convincing them to buy what we produce.

I think that by combining healthy cows and a functioning rumen with game theory-based political decisions, the beef industry could make sure beef producers get back in the driver’s seat.


Doug Dear is a Farmer Focus writer from Yorkshire. Read his biography.