Cattle industry in the black

Oct 24 2010 - 11:38pm

Images

ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Ranch hand Bodie Booth tags the ear of an Angus heifer as veterinarian Clark Asay looks on recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville. Dave Eliason (right) is the president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association.
ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Ranch hand Bodie Booth operates a squeeze chute as veterinarian Clark Asay tattoos the ear of an Angus heifer recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville. Dave Eliason (right) president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, works as his dog, Ozzie, watches.
ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Brady Eliason herds a group of  Angus heifers into a chute recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville.
ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Ranch hand Bodie Booth tags the ear of an Angus heifer as veterinarian Clark Asay looks on recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville. Dave Eliason (right) is the president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association.
ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Ranch hand Bodie Booth operates a squeeze chute as veterinarian Clark Asay tattoos the ear of an Angus heifer recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville. Dave Eliason (right) president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, works as his dog, Ozzie, watches.
ANTHONY SOUFFLE/Standard-Examiner 
Brady Eliason herds a group of  Angus heifers into a chute recently at Dave Eliason’s ranch in Snowville.

A year ago, times were at their toughest for Utah's cattle industry. A stagnant economy and rising business costs hurt many ranchers financially.

This year, times are still tough economically, but things are looking up. The beef industry is one of the few agricultural industries that is in the black, and sales to overseas markets continue to improve.

"Industry prices are probably a little better this year than last year," said Brent Tanner, executive vice president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association.

"While our beef producers aren't getting rich right now, they are in a better marketplace than they were last year."

Tanner credits change to a variety of factors.

As the U.S. economy improves, more people are buying better cuts of beef. While before they might have settled for hamburger, people are now buying more roasts and steaks.

Around the world, countries have lifted their trade embargoes, put in place because of health concerns, against U.S. beef.

As the value of the dollar changes, the U.S. can trade more competitively with other countries. At the same time, some countries see the value of their own currency rise and they can afford more American goods.

"One of the things they like is our high-quality beef," Tanner said.

Traditionally, foreign countries buy lesser quality or variety meat from American beef producers, but Tanner said he is seeing an increase in higher quality meat being sold overseas.

Most of the cattle raised in Utah do not stay in Utah. The Beehive State specializes in what is called the cow/calf end of the industry.

Because Utah is not a corn-producing state, most of the calves born in the state are shipped to feedlots in other states when they are 6 to 8 months old.

Only about a quarter of the cattle stay to be raised in Utah, but the beef that is raised here is still of good quality.

"I would say that there are herds of beef in the state of Utah that are producing the highest quality of beef," Tanner said.

Dave Eliason is the president of the Utah Cattlemen's Association and a Top of Utah cattle rancher who is proud of the quality of beef that comes out of the Beehive State.

"Utah cattle have a pretty good reputation," he said.

Mike Hill, kitchen manager and co-owner of the Timbermine Restaurant in Ogden, gets his meat from a variety of suppliers, including Swift in Hyrum.

Like most restaurants, and more so because it is a steakhouse, Timbermine orders choice beef or better.

So far, Hill said, the restaurant has had no problem finding good-quality meat.

"As of right now, I haven't seen anything that is not looking really good," Hill said.

Through tough economic times, however, Hill worried that the quality would decline.

"That makes you wonder what's going to come through the pipeline," he said.

Although the market has improved for Utah ranchers, it is an industry that faces obstacles, many out of the control of ranchers.

The biggest expense, Eliason said, is getting the cows through the winter.

The cows and calves must be kept warm and fed throughout the winter months.

Because many cattle are fed grass, ranchers have to worry about drought.

But a growing concern for Utah cattlemen is the rising cost of doing business.

Eliason said his costs for equipment, fuel and labor increase every year.

In other parts of the country, ranchers say the market for domestic meat has withered to the point where they often receive only a single reasonable bid for their animals -- a trend that could eventually mean lesser-quality meat on dinner tables across the U.S.

The struggle to get a competitive price, they say, is helping to push thousands of producers out of business and might put pressure on others to sell sicker, weaker cows with less tender, less flavorful meat and smaller rib-eyes, for example.

Tanner is more optimistic.

Although beef consumption is down from its high point in the 1950s and 1960s, beef consumption is stable.

People eat too many sweets and too few vegetables, he said, but the average American eats meat within the daily recommended allowance.

The beef produced in Utah continues to be of very high quality, Tanner said, and the Utah Cattlemen's Association will continue to promote a higher-quality product.

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