As we move into the month of May, it isn't hard to see that 2012 is shaping up to be quite a bit different from 2011. At this time last year, Ohio producers were besieged by record rainfall and wondering if we were ever going to get corn planted or hay harvested. 2012 has seen an early spring characterized by favorable soil conditions with inconsistent rainfall and temperature patterns. Crop planting is well ahead of schedule and hay harvest will get a much earlier start than in 2011.
The beef industry as a whole has experienced a bit of turbulence when compared to the previous year. One constant has been that the prices that producers have received for nearly all classes of beef cattle have remained strong. While there have been market fluctuations, prices have remained historically high.
Yet, there have been bumps in the road. The drought that gripped large portions of the U.S. cow-calf belt has helped to reduce cow numbers to levels not seen in nearly 60 years. The drought area has reduced in size but significant drought continues to linger in portions of the southern U.S.
However, the biggest difference from 2012 compared to 2011 is the increasingly tough public relations battle that the beef industry has fought with the media and the public. Since early March, the public relations road has been lined with more potholes than bumps. We first had to deal with issues surrounding lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) also distastefully referred to as "pink slime." In late April, the fourth case of BSE, "mad cow disease", was discovered in California. More recently, consumer activist groups have targeted an enzyme called transglutaminase, used for nearly two decades to bind meat cuts together. Not surprisingly, transglutaminase has been referred to as "meat glue" for shock value in the media.
The beef industry is not alone in fighting outside influences on their industry. The pork industry is currently dealing with outside pressure to accelerate the phase-out of the use of gestation-sow stalls. Companies such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Tim Horton's, and more recently Safeway have all made announcements as to the intentions to buy pork from suppliers that do not use gestation-sow stalls. Burger King also announced that they intend to buy eggs from cage-free operations. An unfortunate side-effect of these announcements was the fact that animal activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) were able to steal part of the spotlight and took credit for these developments.