Easier access to grain and water could bring opportunities for more cow-calf and feedlot production in the Eastern Corn Belt, says Purdue University Cooperative Extension specialist Ron Lemenager. Historically, he says, livestock production in Indiana is down while corn and soybean production are up, but the opportunities outweigh the challenges.

There are some challenges that cattle producers across the country face, such as lower beef demand domestically and globally, Country of Origin Labeling, cap and trade legislation, environmental policy and animal welfare issues, Lemenager explains.

In the Eastern Corn Belt, feedlots have to deal with mud from an environmental standpoint, and weather plays a role in housing, he said. "If we raise cattle here, we’ve got to have some kind of shelter and facilities associated with that."

However, with the latter challenge comes opportunity, Lemenager points out.

"One advantage is that our animals are in relatively close proximity," he says. "We can run a cow-calf pair on an acre or an acre and a half. If you go out west it may take 15 acres to run a cow-calf pair.

"Because the animals are within closer proximity to handling facilities, it gives us the opportunity to use newer technologies like estrous synchronization and artificial insemination. These technologies will allow producers to capitalize on the genetic potential of animals."

Another reason why Lemenager sees potential for Indiana and other Eastern Corn Belt states is the proximity to grain production. “Adding a little bit of starch in the diet early allows us to finish our animals a bit quicker than other areas of the country and also produces a more tender, higher grading product," he says.

Lemenager acknowledges the lack of processing facilities in Indiana but said there are several within a reasonable driving distance, which allows producers to shop around for the best price. Indiana also has a good interstate highway system, which gives producers easy access to markets.

Another major factor that will help the cattle industry in the Eastern Corn Belt is access to water. “Down the road, water is going to be a huge issue nationally," Lemenager says. "Agriculture is going to lose the battle over who owns and controls the water. It's going to be used for human consumption and municipalities. Areas of the country that use underground water resources for irrigation, like the Ogallala aquifer, will be shoved out from a cost perspective and from a use perspective.

"This will force producers to think about where they can grow crops, and here in Indiana we can grow crops because we’ve got rainfall. One can argue about how good the humidity is in the middle of summer, but with that humidity comes the ability to grow corn."

As the demand for food increases globally, Lemenager believes that Indiana’s nonproductive land, or land in conservation reserve programs and highly erodible land, will be needed.

"There are acres that we don’t want to drag a planter through," he says. "If we're going to bring them back into food production, one of the things we can do is put the land in grass and let cows harvest the grass and produce a high quality protein product."

When looking around the state at potential locations for a more intensive operation, Lemenager said producers should consider the wes