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Beefs and Beliefs

When You Thank A Beef Producer, Thank An Oil Producer Too

When we beef producers are blowing our horns, we should be realistic enough to admit our economy depends on plentiful energy.

Missouri beef producer and beef consultant Rick Carlson was talking yesterday at Alltech's annual Global 500 beef meeting about the state of the beef marketplace and mentioned something that always rubs my fur backward.

He said the 4.5-billion-person world population growth over the last 60 years was made possible by two things: One was modern medicine. The other was agriculture.

I don't deny these things were among the top three but it's the snubbing of the third that always irritates me and puts the copper taste of braggadocio in my mouth. Do you know what that third irreplaceable thing is? Oil and petrochemicals.

Without plentiful and cheap diesel, gasoline and natural gas:

  • We could never have effectively distributed those vaccines and antibiotics across the world.
  • Manufacturing all medicines, as well as operating hospitals and doctor's offices and even traveling to those place, would be much more time-consuming and expensive.
  • We couldn't grow as much corn, hay, soybeans, cotton, rice, hogs, chickens or beef because about one-fifth of the land would be needed to grow feed for the draft animals.
  • We wouldn't have chemical fertilizers, particularly nitrogen.
  • Transportation of agricultural goods to multi-level marketplaces would be much slower and might result in costs too high to ship very far.
  • More people would still be killed by horses, mules and oxen while growing food.
  • More people would be required to grow food.
  • Pesticides might not exist at all.
  • Food would cost more and require more of our incomes to buy, therefore the rest of the economy would, by necessity, be smaller. Therefore our incomes would be smaller.

Those are just a few of the losses we would suffer, not to mention the fact we would have many fewer creature comforts and life would be more a struggle. As I get older, increasingly I realize the value comfort and of extra time.

You see, I'm all for blowing our own horn as beef producers and agriculturists but we need to give credit to our fellow industrialists in the "oil industry," as they should do for us. Together, we make this world a much easier, more comfortable and survivable place to live.

Just in case you still don't see the interrelationship between energy and food, think about these facts. Using figures from Iowa State University, it takes beef producers about 47 bushels of corn to finish a yearling steer for 160 days. Also using Iowa figures it would require about 5.5 gallons of diesel per acre to grow that corn using low-tillage methods, or 1.8 gallons of diesel for those 47 bushels at an average yield of 150 bushels per acre.

In addition, Iowa researchers have said it costs 8.65 gallons of diesel per acre to put up the hay for the ration, or perhaps 2 gallons of diesel to grow the amount of hay each steer consumes in the feeding period. They say it takes another .75 gallon of diesel per steer in larger lots to remove the feed from storage, process it, and deliver it to the cattle. Add to that another .3 gallon of diesel per animal to remove manure from the lots.

Of course, this doesn't include the fuel needed for beef producers to transport to and from feedlots to packers and throughout the marketing chain.

Just an example to stimulate you to think about all this.

So next time we're thanking a farmer, I argue we should thank an oil producer, too. Despite what the fools of our society say, without us they would be living in grass huts and burning cow dung for cooking heat.

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