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Intermountain Rangeland Symposium: Factors may cut into cheap beef

Published on 20 January 2011
Jeff Mosley

Economic demands on feed and oil, international monetary policy, and the growing segment of urban consumers were some of the themes presented at the Intermountain Rangeland Symposium, held Jan. 13 and 14 in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Over a period of three decades, the livestock agriculture industry has experienced several factors changing its profitability and operations. Jeff Mosley, a beef specialist with Montana State University, pointed to three factors – cheap corn, cheap oil and cheap money for the U.S. – as contributors to the nation’s expectation of cheap food.

All of those dynamics are expected to change in coming years – if they haven’t already.

Volatility in oil production, ethanol subsidies and rising corn costs, and the declining value of the U.S. dollar, all have direct influence on beef prices and livestock production. As a result, food production costs are expected to rise over the next decade.

That dynamic will make rangeland more critical to food production, Mosley said. The environmental movement’s grip on rangeland could shift to more of a conservation philosophy. With higher costs of food production, consumers and politicians are likely to encourage more rangeland use for livestock raised for beef production.

“You don’t have much time to ponder how to preserve that tree if you’re freezing at night,” Mosley said. “When you have lots of cheap food, you don’t consider using that land for producing food.”

Barry PerrymanDemand factors will also rise as the world population continues to climb from 6.5 billion people today, to between 9 and 10 billion by 2050, the challenge to be met is how to balance crops used for biofuels and those going into the food cycle. And oil production will have peaked long before then. This could all put the corn-based beef production method at much higher costs.

“If that’s true, that has major implications to rangeland livestock industries,” Mosley said.

Barry Perryman, professor of animal science at University of Nevada-Reno, also outlined factors that rangeland livestock producers must battle in their grazing practices with a growing segment of urban consumers.

Perryman cited statistics showing that it takes most Americans 36 days to earn enough disposable income to pay for their food consumption for that entire year. But it takes 52 days to earn income for health care, 62 days for housing and 77 for federal taxes.

“U.S. people are not typically concerned about the supply of high quality/low cost agricultural products,” he said. “And why? Because it’s cheap and easy to get a hold of.” end_mark


TOP: Jeff Mosley of Montana State University says the current discussion of whether to make the U.S. dollar the global standard for currency has significant impact on food prices. -  By David Cooper

BOTTOM: Barry Perryman of University of Nevada-Reno says household income amounts spent on food are significantly lower than what's spent on health care, taxes or housing. -  By David Cooper