Beef versus Pork production opportunities

On Wednesday I was on the program at the Passion For Pigs meeting in Columbia, Missouri. Dr Ron Plain from the University of Missouri was the last speaker of the day. We are all familiar with Ron and his knowledge of the trends impacting US pork production and pricing.

On Wednesday he shared a new slide with the audience that I haven’t seen before. USDA data for the last 81 years shows a trend line of 1.5% increase in pork tonnage annually. This is a remarkable statistic given the ups and downs we experience in the industry.

As Ron asked the audience – what other industry has been so consistent in it’s output for over three quarters of a century? His message to the audience – because of it’s consistency, pork production still remains an opportunity industry for youth to return to agriculture. Properly managed, an investment in pork production with an ever growing market that is very predictable is the entry for those young people willing to work hard and make management decisions.

Beef doesn’t present these sorts of opportunities because of the very long time-lines involved in generating returns and the huge capital investments required to have an ownership stake. In addition, as the drought in the mid-south and central US deepens, we’re seeing that weather has upset what should be rebuilding years for the beef cow herd. If you can’t grow grass to feed replacement heifers, you don’t expand the herd and in many cases you continue to sell off generations of genetic stock.

My son-in-law’s parents and grandparents have a beef cow herd on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills. At Thanksgiving my son-in-law’s father told me he had enough feed for his herd for the winter months. His big worry – what will pastures be like next summer. Will he have grass to graze or will be forced to sell some of his breeding stock?

While the impact of the drought on pork production is being felt with higher feed grain prices, we’re not faced with selling animals because we don’t have anything to feed. Feed grains are a concentrated energy source and are transportable at a reasonable price. So much so that US producers are now transporting South America grain into the southeast for their livestock.

How do you transport roughage into a grassland based region? How do you involve youth in this economy when the options for the next several years aren’t very good?

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