Chris Calkins encourages youth during the 2012 Cattlemen’s Classic to become part of the beef business
There will be fewer people involved in the beef business in the future, but for those left tremendous opportunities will exist, was the take-home message from a University of Nebraska animal science professor. “If you are involved in the beef industry in the state of Nebraska, I think you are incredibly fortunate,” according to Chris Calkins. “They say there will be nine billion more people in the world in 35 years. That is 28.5 percent more people to feed in the future,” he said.
It will take a lot of work in the beef industry to provide the product those people want, he said. “In developing countries, when they have money, the first thing they spend it on is beef,” he explained. “They want more protein in their diet. What is good for us is that we have developing countries all over world,” he stated.
Calkins sees the future of beef as demand, and demand is cotinuing to grow. “Think of it from a world perspective,” he said. “Nearly 96 percent of the people in the world live outside the U.S. Those people are our customers,” he stated.
Last year, the U.S. garnered $5 billion dollars in beef exports, which added value of $280 to each individual animal. “If we didn’t have export markets, we would give away $280 for every individual animal produced in the U.S.,” he said. “We need to think about what our customers want, and what we can do to produce that product,” he said.
During the last year, fed steer prices have increased $1,000 a head. A fed steer is now worth almost $2,500, Calkins said. “We have great demand and growing markets. More and more people want the product we are producing,” he added.
Unfortunately, the supply side took another hit last year primarily due to the weather. “The weather had a tremendous affect on our supply of cattle,” he said. “About five percent less beef was produced last year, and we lost one million head of cattle that were culled because of the weather.”
Calkins anticipates the beef industry will continue to shrink in years to come, but for those left tremendous opportunities exist. “As the supply side gets tighter, and demand gets better, there will be many opportunities to make money,” he said.
“A farmer in 1970s fed 50 people, but a farmer can now feed 155 people,” he said. “That is three times better. It is all because of better genetics, better production, better animal health and pharmaceutical products, and better science,” he stated. “That will be the foundation for how we will continue to grow in the future.”
“If you are young and live in Nebraska, now is a great time to think about stepping into the cattle business,” Calkins continued. “The average age of a farmer in Nebraska is 56 years old. If you are under 56, your future ought to be looking pretty good right now,” he said.
Calkins said the opportunities are there. “In Nebraska, we have the kind of genetics and crops to produce animals that are more tender and flavorful, and highly desired on an international market. Those large carcases chill more slowly, and have more marbling making for a better product,” he said.
The downfall for future beef producers is the growing concern with animal activists pushing their own agendas. “We have people criticizing everything from our production practices, to feeding corn to our animals, to how we care for and handle our animals. We have people concerned about animal welfare, and pushing a vegetarian diet,” he said.
As a youth get into the beef industry, Calkins said they need to be good caretakers of land, animals and the resources they’re given. “We simply can not afford to have people mistreating animals,” he stressed. He also encourages youth to get involved and join organizations such as 4-H, FFA and cattlemen and women organizations. “It is hard to make a difference as an individual, but as a group you can come together to speak with one voice. Be an advocate of agriculture, and don’t be afraid to speak up in defense of your livelihood.”
Lastly, Calkins encouraged youth to get an education. “Our future generations need an education. By continuing to learn, we will continue to be able to produce more with less,” he said.