The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 7, 2012

Where's the beef

Area cattlemen still trying to recover from effects of drought

By Bridget Nash Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — Consumers still see high beef prices as a result of last year’s cattle production, but contributing factors to the low production may change soon.

“Standard data says we do have record-high beef prices at the current time,” said Greg Highfill, area livestock specialist at Garfield County Oklahoma State University Extension Office. “From the demand side, consumers are wanting beef, so cattle producers are encouraged by that.”

While remembering last year’s drought in Oklahoma, many people only consider the negative effect the lack of rain had on crops, but cattle producers also were affected.

“They were hurt by the drought,” Highfill said. “Cattle had been moved to areas with grass or sold, so we don’t have as many beef cows in northwest Oklahoma as we did a few years ago.”

In fact, northwest Oklahoma is seeing low beef cow numbers and the lowest number of production cows in decades.

“From a cattle production standpoint, we are at a record low beef cow numbers,” Highfill said. “We have the fewest number of production cows that we’ve had since the 1950s.”

Even though the numbers are low, the quality of cattle is very high, Highfill said, and the cattle that are being produced are yielding more pounds of beef per cow than in previous years.

“We’ve kept the total pounds of beef that reaches the consumer at excellent levels,” Highfill said.

He said those high numbers are good, but they will be difficult to maintain, statewide and nationally.

“For the next couple of years, we are not going to be able to maintain that production. Pounds of product produced in the United States will decline,” Highfill said. “We’ve got a tight supply of beef and a good demand, so that is going to yield higher prices.”

Because the number of cows is not the only factor in beef pricing for consumers, the recent state of the economy lends to the high beef prices. Things such as the cost of fuel also increase the cost of production.

The good news is this year’s fair weather and rainfall may allow more cattle producers to bring cattle back to northwest Oklahoma and raise the number of cattle in the area.

“Obviously, they were hurt by the drought (last year),” said Highfill. “With the value of these calves and the ability to capture some of the increase value ... I would expect a fair number of producers to restock those pastures fairly quickly.”

For producers, it is a good time to sell cattle, said Highfill. Between good prices for selling producers and better weather this year, more cattle are expect to graze the pastures of northwest Oklahoma.