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For Beef And Pork Producers, 2019 Wasn't As Bad As It Could Have Been

The number of beef cattle in the United States is leveling off after some years of growth.
Amy mayer
Harvest Public Media file photo
The number of beef cattle in the United States is leveling off after some years of growth.

People are eating a lot of meat, both in the U.S. and around the world, and that could be good news for the cattle sector in 2020. Things are looking up for pork, too.

Lee Schulz, a livestock economist at Iowa State University, says there’s typically a 9 to 14 year cycle for beef production. At the current point in that cycle, heading into year six, he says the number of cattle should be leveling-off, which would mean farmers and ranchers would get lower prices for their beef.

But as he looks ahead to predictions for 2020, Schulz sees better prices than the ones today.

“That’s certainly setting up that we could continue to hold inventories or not see very large declines or liquidations of the cattle herd because of those supported prices in the horizon,” Schulz said.

He says in recent years beef exports grew by more than 10 percent. While the pace of that growth has slowed, 2019 still saw a bit of an increase. The new trade deal with Japan and the likely implementation of a new North American agreement could keep beef exports strong in 2020.

For hog farmers, 2019 included ongoing tariffs on Chinese imports of U.S. pork, but the year also saw the unprecedented African swine fever (ASF) outbreak claim more than half the pigs in China, pushing the country to go shopping for more pork on the world market.

“We’re not the first location that China comes to to buy pork,” he says, “and so there certainly was a lag in the impact of what was going on with the outbreak of ASF.”

China started buying more pork from the European Union, Schulz says, but eventually it turned to the US, too.

“We’ve seen the US really ramp-up exports to China,” he said, “as well as back-filling other places that maybe weren’t getting exports from the European Union.”

African swine fever has not been found in North America, but Schulz says the threat of it has prompted many farmers to pour profits into shoring up biosecurity. That has the added benefit of reducing the spread of existing diseases, too.

Follow Amy on Twitter:@AgAmyinAmes

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Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.