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Steve Kay, Contributing Columnist

Opinion
Jul 31, 2015
Back in the early 2000s , when the battle to introduce mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) was raging, California rancher Carolyn Carey quietly took the issue into her own hands. Rather than supporting mandatory COOL, she introduced a “Born and Raised in the USA” program and label that was approved for most meat and poultry species.



Opinion
Jul 2, 2015
Who would have believed the discovery of live cattle prices would change so much in a decade? Or that the public cries in the 1990s over “captive supply” would be replaced by a public silence about the disappearing cash market and the preponderance...


Opinion
May 29, 2015
All wealth to the industry comes from consumers so it’s important to monitor retail and foodservice beef sales. There are divergent feelings among analysts about whether beef demand has gotten stronger or weaker in the past year, and I’ll leave it to them to fight it out.


Opinion
May 1, 2015
The grilling season has finally begun and the beef industry is cautiously optimistic that Americans will show their love of a good steak. But how much beef gets put on the grill this month will depend on two factors: how aggressively retailers want to build their beef sales; and what consumers are willing to keep paying for beef throughout the month.


Opinion
Apr 3, 2015
One look at annual cattle feeding returns since 1975 would make one wonder why anyone would want to feed cattle or own a feedlot. On the surface, the numbers suggest only 17 profitable years and 23 loss years. But the numbers (from the Livestock Marketing Information Center; LMIC) are averages based on a 750-pound steer fed on the Southern Plains.
Opinion
Apr 3, 2015
One look at annual cattle feeding returns since 1975 would make one wonder why anyone would want to feed cattle or own a feedlot. On the surface, the numbers suggest only 17 profitable years and 23 loss years. But the numbers (from the Livestock Marketing Information Center; LMIC) are averages based on a 750-pound steer fed on the Southern Plains.
Opinion
Mar 3, 2015
Cattle producers, from the ranch to the feedlot, continue to focus on producing the highest quality cattle they can. That’s because they know that producing the finest grain-fed beef in the world is the big advantage the U.S. has over every other beef producing nation.
Opinion
Mar 3, 2015
Cattle producers, from the ranch to the feedlot, continue to focus on producing the highest quality cattle they can. That’s because they know that producing the finest grain-fed beef in the world is the big advantage the U.S. has over every other beef producing nation.
Opinion
Jan 30, 2015
Beef remains Americans’ favorite meat. But they are eating less of it each year because of a shrinking supply. Conversely, people are eating more chicken because of an expanding supply. Meanwhile, beef and the way it is produced remains under intense public scrutiny and criticism while hardly a bad word is spoken about chicken.
Opinion
Jan 30, 2015
Beef remains Americans’ favorite meat. But they are eating less of it each year because of a shrinking supply. Conversely, people are eating more chicken because of an expanding supply. Meanwhile, beef and the way it is produced remains under intense public scrutiny and criticism while hardly a bad word is spoken about chicken.
Opinion
Jan 2, 2015
The beef industry never lacks for issues. This year will see further tortuous efforts to improve and expand the industry’s promotion and research program, known as the Beef Checkoff. It will see equally drawn-out efforts to change the country of origin labeling (COOL) law to bring the U.
Opinion
Nov 28, 2014
Cattle feeders have done a masterful job this year of feeding cattle as long as possible, at the same time remaining fairly current in their marketings. The result has been record heavy steer and heifer carcasses and the percentage of cattle grading USDA Prime breaching 5 percent for the first time.
Opinion
Oct 31, 2014
Not only do consumers have all these choices; they can read comprehensive nutrition labels to help them make sensible dietary choices. Moreover, they can expect to pay a reasonable price for most food products. I use “reasonable” in relation to food prices in other countries.
Opinion
Oct 3, 2014
One of the beef industry’s greatest accomplishments in the past 20 years has been to improve the eating experience for beef lovers. It was a huge shock in the 1990s when the industry discovered that one out of four steaks was not meeting consumers’ expectations.
Opinion
Aug 29, 2014
With this in mind, I want to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of families who are the backbone of the U.S. beef industry. Whether these families run cow/calf or stocker operations, own livestock barns or feedlots, each and every family is vital to the health and success of the entire industry.
Opinion
Aug 1, 2014
Some combinations are obvious. Think cowboy hats and Merle Haggard, pickup trucks and goose neck trailers. So what about beef and red wine? This combo is such a natural that I’ve long wondered why the industries that make both products don’t make more of the way the two go together.
Opinion
Jul 3, 2014
Old-timers must be shaking their heads in disbelief at the way calves and feeder cattle are trading. Even when I began covering the industry 28 years ago, I would not have believed the price of calves would by 2014 increase more than 3.5 times. On the other hand, the price of many other goods has probably increased by that much or more.
News
May 30, 2014
Americans are still buying beef despite record high prices in grocery stores and restaurants. Foreign buyers are also involved by ordering more than last year, despite the price. All this is good news, as all wealth to the beef industry comes from consumers, whether at home or abroad.
Opinion
May 2, 2014
Water and plants are vital to the well-being of American ag. Water in its various forms is needed to grow everything from pasture to feed crops to fruit and vegetables. It succors all kinds of plants that turn directly or indirectly into food for consumers at home and abroad.
Opinion
Apr 4, 2014
What an incredible time to have young cattle to sell. As I write this, calves weighing 600 to 650 pounds are selling for $197 to $206 per cwt at Oklahoma City. Not far behind them are 650 to 700 pounders at $188-189, 700 to 750 pounders at $178- 187.50, 750 to 800 pounders at $174.
Opinion
Jan 31, 2014
Supporters and opponents of country of origin labeling (COOL) have been deeply divided ever since the idea of COOL emerged in the late 1990s. That divide continues to play out not just in the country but in the corridors of Congress.
Opinion
Jan 10, 2014
The U.S. cattle feeding industry has depended for years on Mexican feeder cattle to help fill its pens. Annual imports have averaged about one million head, although they have fluctuated dramatically at times, in large part due to drought. That’s why 2011 and 2012 saw more than 1.
Opinion
Nov 29, 2013
It needed to. For years it had rested on the premise that beef was “King” and Americans would continue to gobble it up. But, beef demand began to decline because beef was too fatty and inconsistent in its eating quality. Fortunately, the industry responded to the alarm bells, although it took nearly 20 years to arrest that declining demand.
News
Nov 1, 2013
How many of you have been inside the boxed storage facility of a large fed beef processing plant? If you haven’t, it’s well worth a visit because these facilities tell you a lot about the current state of the beef industry and its future direction..
Opinion
Oct 4, 2013
The shrinking U.S. cattle herd has claimed another victim. Cow processor Martin’s Abattoir & Wholesale Meats in North Carolina ceased operations mid-September after 58 years in business. It’s the third cow processor to close in the past two years.
Opinion
Aug 30, 2013
The Zilmax story is still unfolding. But years from now, it should be taught as a cautionary tale of how the best intentions can go awry. Merck Animal Health, which makes the feed supplement, had spent 30 years developing and testing the product.
Opinion
Aug 2, 2013
The numbers never did add up for Northern Beef Packers (NBP) in Aberdeen, SD. Around the time that plans for its new plant were getting off the ground, the national cattle herd had completed three years of extremely modest expansion and then returned to contraction mode.
News
Jun 28, 2013
The beef industry promotes the use of what it calls new “technologies” to increase productivity and help producers make more money. Producing more pounds per head makes economic sense, especially as the U.S. cattle herd continues to shrink.
Opinion
May 31, 2013
One weekend does not make a market. But the beef industry was hoping for a beef sales bonanza over the Memorial Day holiday. Alas, Mother Nature decided to rain on the beef parade. Instead of warm, sunny weather that would have encouraged more grilling, it was wet and cool in parts of the Midwest and Northeast.
Opinion
May 3, 2013
Weather extremes have played a huge role in American life from the time the republic was founded. From earthquakes to hurricanes or tornadoes, cities and towns from coast to coast have felt the full force of nature and been reshaped by it. Weather has also been a huge influence in shaping agriculture and modern food production.
Opinion
Mar 29, 2013
Batista’s optimism, and that of his family, transformed JBS from being a mid-sized beef processor in Brazil to being the world’s largest meat and poultry company. The company now harvests every commercial species of animal, including goats. Its global revenue in 2012 was 76 billion reais (roughly $38 billion), up 22.
Opinion
Mar 1, 2013
I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a Prime rib dinner with Scott George and J.D Alexander, respectively the incoming and outgoing presidents of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). We were attending the 10th annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference held at the majestic Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies.
Opinion
Feb 1, 2013
Plainview was the sixth largest plant on the Southern Plains and its idling causes 4,650 head of daily slaughter capacity to be lost to cattle feeders. But the market grossly over-reacted and Plainview’s absence will have little impact on Southern Plains’ live cattle prices this year.
Opinion
Jan 4, 2013
It’s startling to realize that the U.S. has lost 14.5 million cattle since 1996. The beef industry has adjusted to the loss of these millions of cattle, notably by improving productivity per animal, better red meat yields and record heavy carcass weights for steers and heifers.
Opinion
Dec 1, 2012
The U.S. faces a beef “deficit” in the coming year that will challenge every sector of the beef industry. I use the term “deficit” in that per capita beef consumption will decline relative to how much beef people would like to eat. USDA’s latest forecast is for available beef supplies in 2013 to be 54.
Opinion
Nov 2, 2012
Much has already been written about the impact of the 2010-2011 Texas/Oklahoma-based drought and this year’s most widespread drought in 59-plus years. Drought has forced cow/calf operators to cull cows, retain fewer heifers than expected, and thus reduce their herds for another year.
Opinion
Aug 31, 2012
When I first started w r i t i n g about the beef industry 25 years ago, it was fashionable for cattle producers to regard beef processors as “the enemy.” They decried packers for their perceived market power and that they made millions of dollars per year.
Opinion
Aug 10, 2012
Beef producers face the most widespread drought in their lifetimes. This means their drought management options are fewer than in years when droughts might have been just as severe but much more local. Take the historic Texas-Oklahoma drought that finally broke this spring.
Opinion
Jul 6, 2012
We may be a ground beef nation but steaks still put the sizzle in wholesale beef prices and underpin fed cattle prices. That’s what occurred this spring, as beef cutout values responded to aggressive retail featuring of steak items for the Memorial Day weekend and throughout June.
Opinion
Jun 1, 2012
Exports are a key contributor to the economic health of the U.S. beef industry. They allow the industry to maximize the value of certain cuts and by-products that have a much lower value at home. And they provide a counter-balance to the domestic market. The result is that exports boost cattle prices.
Opinion
May 4, 2012
How much Americans spend on beef and how much they buy is how the industry determines domestic beef demand. Because all wealth to the industry comes from consumers, demand trumps everything else. This will be especially important the next two months as supplies of market-ready cattle start to increase seasonally.
Opinion
Mar 30, 2012
The gutter press appears to be alive and well in America. How else can one describe the appalling media disparagement of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) and Beef Products, Inc., (BPI) one of the two companies that make it? I’m not a conspiracy theorist.
News
Mar 2, 2012
I ’ m a great fan of Costco, especially the way the warehouse chain sells beef. From the moment I see the giant “USDA Choice” banner above its fresh meat case, my pulse quickens as I anticipate finding a great beef deal. True to form, a visit last week produced not one but two terrific buys (although one wasn’t in the fresh case).
News
Feb 3, 2012
Industry leaders have rightly focused on the shrinking U.S. cattle herd as one of the industry’s biggest issues. While a smaller herd means higher prices for cow/calf producers, it means small or negative margins for everyone else in the beef chain. And it’s not healthy for only one sector to be making money.
News
Dec 30, 2011
Cattle producers the world over are great survivors. The beef industries in most of the major beef-producing countries have endured everything from BSE to drought to floods in the past decade. These and other calamities forced some producers out of the business.
News
Dec 2, 2011
Food safety is the beef industry’s second most critical issue after demand. In fact, the two are inter-connected. So no one will quibble with the need to spend whatever it takes to make beef as safe as possible. But an examination of the years after the Jack-in- Box E.
News
Nov 4, 2011
Americans still love their beef. But they’re not eating anywhere near as much as their parents. This seems a contradiction, but the dramatic decline in per capita beef consumption over the last 35 years has little to do with preference. It’s all about available supplies.
News
Sep 30, 2011
This should be the best of times for beef producers. National herd numbers have fallen each of the past four years, yet domestic and global beef demand has improved steadily since the end of the 2008 recession. The U.S. has reclaimed its position as the world's leading beef exporter.
Opinion
Sep 2, 2011
Cow/calf producers and stocker operators in western and northern states are enjoying one of their best grass seasons for some years. Contrast this with the dire conditions in Texas, Oklahoma, parts of surrounding states and all the way to Florida.
Opinion
Jul 29, 2011
Although we export only 12-14 percent of our production, strong global demand has raised beef prices and has partially offset spluttering demand at home. Exports have significantly raised cattle values. The export boom is adding more than $200 per head to the value of fed cattle.
Opinion
Jul 1, 2011
I recently had the privilege of addressing California beef producers at their midyear meeting. The state has had one of its best spring grass seasons in years, so everyone had a smile on his or her face. I hope what I told them made them feel even better.
Opinion
Dec 3, 2010
The continued strength of the feeder and fed cattle markets makes a mockery of claims that the market is broken. Just a month or so ago, some analysts were forecasting that fed cattle prices would fall to $90 per cwt. or go even lower. Yet cash prices topped $100 again the week before last and went even higher last week.
Opinion
Oct 29, 2010
Here's a simple question to start. Why do you think live cattle prices shot above $100 the week before last? I'm sure you know the reasons, but let me offer another. Packers are throwing money at cattle feeders in a brazen attempt to bribe them into opposing the proposed Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule.
Opinion
Oct 1, 2010
The Great Recession might be over, but that's little comfort for the millions of Americans still out of work or working reduced hours. In fact, our nation of conspicuous spenders has become one of extremely cautious spenders, and this new attitude continues to show up in food spending.
Opinion
Sep 3, 2010
Livestock producers have long had an ambivalent attitude about meat packers. They complain that packers make profits at their expense. Yet when producers own meat companies, the results have often been disastrous. Producers have discovered that operating a successful meat plant or company has unique challenges not understood by outsiders.
Opinion
Jun 4, 2010
When I think of Greece, I think of lamb, from kebabs to kleftiko.I dont think of beef because the country produces only 56,000 metric tons (MT) of beef per year. Yet Greece is currently having a big impact on the U.S., the largest beef producer in the world (12.
Opinion
Apr 30, 2010
“Tough news if you’re a meat lover,” said the headline on my Internet news page last Monday. Oh no, I thought, not another negative story about how eating meat is bad for you and the planet. Turns out I was wrong, but the reasons for the headline are what’s got everyone in the industry buzzing right now.
Opinion
Apr 2, 2010
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Is in Japan this week to promote U.S. farm exports to that country. Beef is to be featured prominently, both in the promotions and in private discussions with Japanese government officials. Both countries realize that Japans age limit on U.
Opinion
Jan 29, 2010
Money talks, but apparently not loud enough to get the Obama administration to take a fresh approach to getting Japan to relax its restrictions on U.S. beef imports. Perhaps it is because the beef industry hasnt screamed enough about how much money the industry is losing because of the severely limited access to the Japanese market.
Opinion
Dec 31, 2009
Why is it that packers disclose so much information about their business, but beef cattle producers so little? The contrast has fascinated me ever since I started surveying the industry’s largest packers, cattle feeders and cow/calf producers back in the late 1980s. Packers were initially reluctant to provide slaughter capacity or annual slaughter or sales data. But they soon realized
Opinion
Dec 4, 2009
The authors did not cite meatpacking, but they could have. In 1988, the top three packers (IBP, ConAgra and Excel) shared 67.1 percent of fed steer and heifer slaughter, according to my data. Their market share climbed as high as 73.8 percent in 2001, but then declined and has remained below 70 percent ever since.
Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Nov 6, 2009
Cattle feeders and packers are learning how to live with market volatility of historic proportions. It wasn’t so many years ago that most commodity futures prices were only allowed to rise or fall by a maximum 150 points per trading session. Any moves up or down the limit in the futures market caused shockwaves throughout the cash markets for livestock and meat.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
Most folk in the cattle/ beef industry will be happy to see the end of one of the most challenging years in history. You have to go back to 1973, when President Nixon imposed price controls on beef, to find one as challenging. The market was in uproar the rest of the year.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
Next time you pull your boots on, reflect for a moment about how the leather business affects the price of cattle. You might be surprised at how much. That's because hides, which are turned into all types of leather, make up two-thirds of the value of all the byproducts that come from each animal.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
US Premium Beef (USPB) remains a remarkable model of how beef producers can work with, not against, packers and put more money in their pockets. USPB began operations in 1997 with a minority ownership in then Farmland National Beef and has gone from strength to strength.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
The U.S.s shrinking cattle population is becoming a huge concern for the beef industry. The main reason for the declining numbers is lack of profitability. Cattle feeders in particular have lost billions of dollars in equity in the past two years. The main reason for this is high input costs and weak beef demand due to the recession.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
Fed cattle processors enjoyed their best August operating margins since 2003. The real story, though, is that they achieved this not at the expense of cattle feeders. In fact, the opposite occurred. Cattle feeders enjoyed a strong and much-needed rally in prices.
Opinion
Nov 6, 2009
Go into any supermarket and youll find that most poultry items are branded with a company name. These include Tyson, Perdue and Pilgrims, which is soon to be majority-owned by JBS. Branded beef is much harder to find. There are niche brands such as Harris, Maverick, Lauras Lean and Coleman.
Opinion
Jul 31, 2009
Memo to federal food safety officials: Want to protect consumers by eliminating E.coli O157:H7 from the food supply? Then invest in the commercial use of a vaccine for cattle. Then make its use mandatory, but pay most of the vaccines cost to cattle producers for the first few years.
Opinion
May 29, 2009
Paris is a long way culturally and geographically from Amarillo or Omaha. But a meeting in the French capital last week could have an important bearing on the profitability of the U.S. beef industry for the next year or so. Paris played host to the annual meeting of the World Organization for Animal Health (commonly known as OIE).
News
Feb 27, 2009
Supporters of mandator y Country of Origin Labeling (mCOOL) and opponents of further consolidation of the beef processing sector sure have a lot to cheer about. The mCOOL boosters now have the ear of our new Agriculture secretary, who has asked the meat industry to voluntarily adopt three practices stricter than those laid out in USDAs final rule.


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