Survey of producers looks at beef’s future

Farm Forum

WATERTOWN — North Dakota State University offers a window into the future with a new survey to determine attitudes and expectations in light of decreasing cow numbers, increasing input costs, unprecedented commodity market volatility and competition for labor resources.

Carl Dahlen, NDSU beef cattle specialist, one of the principle investigators, says the research was conducted in the spring of 2012, and the first final summary was released at the first tri-state Northern States Beef Conference, held Jan. 16 and 17 in Watertown, S.D.

Dahlen says researchers had 527 responses out of 2,500 surveys sent out to North Dakota beef producers. Of the respondents, 83 percent were active producers. Producers in the survey said 49 percent of their gross income came from beef production. The state’s beef industry is dominated by cow-calf producers, with 95 percent maintaining commercial cow-calf pairs and 14 percent producing purebred and seed stock.

Survey says

Among the responses:

· About 33 percent of producers said they’d increase the number of cattle they maintain if a meatpacking plant opened in North Dakota. That’s especially significant because a new packing plant is just opening and coming into production in Aberdeen, S.D. A so-called instant “clicker” survey during the meeting said about 30 percent would increase numbers.

· About 40 percent of cow-calf producers said they’d be likely to use artificial insemination (AI) in the next one to five years, compared with a national survey of actual use in 2007 that found only 8 percent of similar operations use AI.

· Some 96 percent said they’d use cattle vaccinations and 76 percent said they’d use individual Cattle ID.

· Animal health issues, severe weather, environmental regulations, animal rights concerns and reproductive issues were among the concerns that could have the greatest negative impact on profitability potential.

· About 48 percent said the principal operator would exit the industry within 10 years, which is not surprising considering the age of producers.

“We don’t have a handle on what’s going to happen with the cow herds,” he says. Only 33 percent said they’d transfer the operation to the next generation, while 6 percent said they’d sell to an established producer and 54 percent of all respondents said they had no succession plan. Some 39 percent of those expecting to leave the business within 10 years did not have a succession plan.

· About 75 percent would transfer assets gradually to a family member at a discounted rate, 13 percent would do so for a beginning, non-family producer but only about 1 percent would do so for an existing non-family producer.

· For types of information needed, the top issues were nutrition at 59 percent, production cost analysis at 44 percent, succession planning at 38 percent and financial planning at 35 percent.

· The beef check-off was rated as the most important organization in promoting beef industry growth, followed by state and county extension services.

Officials at the meeting said they thought the study was a good first effort, and reflects interest in opportunities as the corn and soybean belts move farther north. The event was coordinated by land-grant university beef specialists in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. It is designed to be analogous to the Range Beef Cow Symposium, held in western plains states every other year.

“This is a different clientele, more farmer-feeders — people trying to manage crop production and livestock on same operations,” Dahlen says.