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Nebraska beef cattle numbers reach 30-year highNebraska beef cattle numbers reach 30-year high

Lower heifer retention rates indicate growth may be slowing nationally.

Tyler Harris

February 13, 2018

3 Min Read
ABUNDANT IN BEEF: Cattle numbers in Nebraska reached 6.8 million head as of Jan. 1.

In January, Nebraska started off the year with a higher beginning cattle inventory than the state has seen since the 1980s.

All cattle and calves in Nebraska as of Jan. 1 totaled 6.8 million head — a 5% increase from last year, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. The last time the inventory was that high at the start of the year was in 1984, when numbers reached 6.9 million.

However, the highest number for Jan. 1 was in 1974, with 7.4 million head, according to NASS data. It was around that time that overall cattle numbers reached an all-time high nationally.

Last week, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a statement following the report.

"Congratulations to Nebraska's cattle producers on achieving the distinction of the most cattle on feed of any state," he said. "Consistent focus on opening new markets, like China, and telling the story of Nebraska beef through international promotion efforts are supporting growth in the industry. We look forward to continued partnership with industry leaders to help create more opportunities to grow our state's number one industry and the Beef State."

"I am pleased that the number of cattle in Nebraska continues to grow. Nebraska is known around the world for producing high-quality beef products, so it is only fitting that we lead the nation in this category," says Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman. "The dedication of Nebraska cattlemen in producing top-quality beef products works hand in hand with the synergy of the state's corn and ethanol sectors."

It comes as no surprise that Nebraska, known for having the highest number of cattle on feed, saw the biggest increase from cattle on feed — up 12% from last year for a total of 2.77 million. In addition, Pete McClymont, Nebraska Cattlemen executive vice president, says Nebraska has always maintained a strong cow-calf herd. With 1.9 million beef cows, Nebraska ranks fourth nationally behind Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri for beef cow numbers.

"One of the reasons Nebraska has come back to this position is due to our resources," McClymont says. "If you look at Nebraska's resources, you think of abundant grass, water resources, the crops needed to feed our cattle. And most of all, we're really blessed with great producers that are committed to do the right thing for the animals, the land, the resources. You add all that up, and we have everything needed to be the premier beef state."

While total cattle numbers also increased nationally, to 94.4 million head — a 1% increase over January 2017 numbers — Jeff Stolle, vice president of marketing at Nebraska Cattlemen, says the increase may be slowing on a national level.

"On the inventory report that came out middle of the last week, the indication was beef replacement heifers were down 4% from the first of January 2017," Stolle says. "We're not seeing as aggressive expansion over the last year or so compared to the previous two to three years, according to USDA data."

And, Stolle adds, overall red meat supply will likely continue to increase moving forward. The challenge is to build demand domestically and internationally to use the additional supply at price levels that will maintain profitability.

"So far we have generally done that. It will be interesting to see if we can continue to operate in a profitable manner as supply continues to build," he says. "From when a decision is made to retain a young female and put her in the cow herd, it takes about three years before you see that manifest in the form of more beef. But we're getting to that point now. So protein is going to be plentiful over the next couple of years."


About the Author(s)

Tyler Harris

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Tyler Harris is the editor for Wallaces Farmer. He started at Farm Progress as a field editor, covering Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Before joining Farm Progress, Tyler got his feet wet covering agriculture and rural issues while attending the University of Iowa, taking any chance he could to get outside the city limits and get on to the farm. This included working for Kalona News, south of Iowa City in the town of Kalona, followed by an internship at Wallaces Farmer in Des Moines after graduation.

Coming from a farm family in southwest Iowa, Tyler is largely interested in how issues impact people at the producer level. True to the reason he started reporting, he loves getting out of town and meeting with producers on the farm, which also gives him a firsthand look at how agriculture and urban interact.

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