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U.S. beef cattle industry keeps disease in check

While Europe's beef cattle industry is being devastated by disease, producers in the United States are looking forward to a good year, says Tom Troxel, beef cattle specialist for the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture began taking steps in mid-1980s to protect the American cattle industry from BSE, or mad-cow disease, from England. And now USDA has taken measures to protect our industry from foot and mouth disease,” Troxel said.

“The threat from foot and mouth disease in the United States is that some individual inadvertently brings in the virus on his clothes or shoes. Precautions are being taken to keep that from happening.”

Troxel noted that consumer demand for beef in the United States is strong and getting stronger. “People are eating more beef than they have in the past two or three years, and I think that's a reflection of our industry's efforts to produce a consistently higher-quality product.”

Arkansas producers are enjoying good prices for their beef. “On average, they're getting about $1.02 per pound for a 500-pound calf,” said Troxel. “That's a little lower than last year, but not much. It's still an excellent price. And I think the price for cattle will continue to be strong into the fall of 2001.”

It's been the hot, dry weather, not disease, that has hurt Arkansas' beef cattle industry most in recent years. This year, most parts of the state are off to a good start, moisture-wise; although there are some areas such as Carroll county in northwest Arkansas that need more rain.

Troxel said the droughts of recent years have taken a heavy toll on pastures. “The dry weather has weakened stands, leaving grass thin and open to weeds. We've gotten a lot of moisture this spring. As the temperature rises, those weeds are really going to sprout. The weeds will take moisture and nutrients away from the grass, so spraying pastures will be critical.

“A rule of thumb is that if weeds cover 20 percent or more of a pasture, it's cost effective to spray for weeds. Another rule of thumb is that you gain 1 pound of grass for every 1 pound of weeds you kill.”

Troxel added that, with the price of fertilizer so high, producers can't afford to be fertilizing weeds instead of grass.

“Overall, the outlook for cattle producers is bright,” said Troxel. “We always have our challenges, but prices are strong and the demand for beef is increasing across the country.”

C. Richard Maples is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

A section found on the USDA Internet site ( focuses solely on foot and mouth .

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