Much has been written about the state of cattle numbers across the nation. Shrinking herd numbers have experts concerned about the industry’s ability to fill available feedlot pen space, keep packing plants operating and meet the demands of retailers, food service, restaurants and export markets.

Another less discussed pending crisis is the aging beef producer. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture more than half of Iowa cattle producers are over the age of 55. Less than 10 percent are under 35 years of age. Those in the 10 percent are the ones who will rebuild the beef herd and feed the global population of 9 billion people expected by 2050. This all comes at a time when costs of land, feed, machinery and virtually all inputs are at record levels. The good news is that cattle prices are also at record levels.

-- Leadership for the future
Farm organizations including the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association have recognized the need to develop future leaders though young producer leadership programs. The Iowa Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program (YCLP) is an exciting opportunity for young producers to get involved. This can also lead to participation in national beef leadership opportunities such as NCBA’s Young Cattlemen’s Conference and Young Producers council.

-- Beginning and Young Livestock producer success network
Thanks to a special initiative from the ISU Vice President for Extension and Outreach, we have been able to begin the Young and Beginning Livestock Producer Success Network. In this program, local peer groups are being developed to share ideas, bring in educational speakers and improve awareness of leadership and other opportunities like the YCLP. Currently there are groups formed or forming in Northwest, Southwest, East Central and Northeast Iowa. Other areas have discussions underway about forming groups. For more information about this program, call your Iowa State Extension beef program specialist or send an email to project coordinator Colin Johnson (

Of course at ISU we understand the importance of preparation of the next generation as part of their college experience. We appreciate our partnerships with Iowa cattle organizations to accomplish this. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation is a great supporter of scholarships for college students, Iowa Beef Industry Council staff have educated students on Beef Quality Assurance, and in January, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association CEO Matt Deppe reviewed the organization, its industry leadership programs and issues with ISU students in the Beef Systems Management class.

The Iowa Beef Center also is taking on a younger look. Last month we introduced Patrick Gunn who began work Feb. 1 as the Extension Cow-calf Specialist in the ISU Department of Animal Science. He joins Lee Schultz (Extension Economist), Grant Dewell (Extension Veterinarian), Chris Clark (SW Iowa Beef Specialist) and Stephanie Hansen (Beef Feedlot Nutrition Research) as younger faculty and staff who infuse new energy into our programs and will help lead actions to meet the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.

January was a very busy month for cattle industry educational programs across Iowa. I hope you took the time to take in some of those sessions. If not, much of the information, proceedings and even some recorded presentations should be available on the Iowa Beef Center website. Depending on when you read this, there may still be time to take in a webinar hosted by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “Managing through Stress: a Livestock Information Event” will be hosted in 14 locations on February 4. More information on this program is available on the IBC web site. On February 21, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Feedlot Roundtable will be webcast to six locations in Iowa. This year, Temple Grandin is the featured speaker.

February is the beginning of the bull buying season for many cow calf producers. Looking at a sale catalog can be an intimidating experience with the massive amount of information that can be collected and reported on each bull. Individual performance, ultrasound data, birth weights, EPD’s, genetic tests, marker-assisted EPD’s and dollar value indexes are just a few of numbers that can be evaluated. Of course, the respective breed associations have a wealth of information to help you wade through these numbers before your head spins and your eyes cross. In addition, Dr. Bob Weaber of Kansas State University gave a very practical game plan for preparing for a bull purchase at the 2012 Cornbelt Cow-calf Conference. You can find this on the Iowa Beef Center Web site at

For more detailed information on understanding the numbers associated with bull selection, a good resource is the Sire Selection Manual available from the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC) at If you are planning to attend any of the Iowa Cattleman’s Association Bull Test Sales, we are currently planning on teaming up with ICA for some bull selection clinics associated with those sales. Look for more on this later.