Rushville Republican

Agriculture

August 9, 2013

Plush pastures, falling feed prices lead to some heifer retention

WEST LAFAYETTE - Recovering pastures and reduced feed prices are likely to spark a slow trend of heifer retention for U.S. beef producers, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt says.

Beef cattle numbers nationwide have been falling since 2007 because of drought that ransacked pastures and drove feed crop prices sky-high. More favorable weather bringing more normal forage and grain production should result in more producers keeping replacement heifers.

“Beef cow operations in some parts of the country where pastures have been restored are probably getting ready to retain heifers,” Hurt said. “Beef cow numbers have declined in the Southeast by about 700,000 head, or 12 percent, since 2007. Midwest numbers have dropped by 680,000 head, or 14 percent, since 2007. Both of these areas should have the pasture and the feed to begin heifer retention.

“The northern Plains is another area that is ripe for herd expansion.”

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rated 72 percent of the nation’s pastures as fair, good or excellent, compared with just 46 percent in 2012.

Prices for feedstuffs such as corn and soybean meal are expected to fall when new-crop harvest begins in the fall. Corn prices could fall by $1.50 per bushel, and fall soybean meal prices could be as low as $150 per ton lower than current old-crop prices, Hurt said.

But parts of the country haven’t yet had enough pasture recovery for producers to consider growing their herds. Such areas include the central and southern Plains and the western U.S., which have about 43 percent of the nation’s beef cows.

“Initial retention of heifers likely will occur this fall in areas primarily east of the Mississippi River, plus the Delta, the western Corn Belt and the northern Great Plains,” Hurt said. “This is a large area that currently has 57 percent of the nation’s beef cows.”

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