October’s late-month cattle price decline underscores how rapidly producer fortunes can change. Already witnessing a depressed market, ranchers saw the value of their calves drop another 13% during a two-week period.
Unfortunately, that coincided with the production schedule for our October issue, and our story, “A Mountain of Meat Looms.” That story detailed the rising supplies of red meat and poultry that will dictate markets over the next few years. The issue hit mailboxes about the time rancher frustration was at its peak.
“You’ve got your facts wrong.” So began a phone exchange with one producer. He insisted USDA data cited for red meat and poultry supplies are flawed because of imports. He’s seen “the trucks loaded with cattle driving across our borders.”
The caller also suggested I, along with other agricultural reporters, am guilty of contributing to the sorry state of today’s agricultural economy. And he’s not alone. A reader of one market story published on www.Drovers.com claims it is wrong for us to publish USDA information regarding beef supplies. The story contained a USDA projection that 2016 beef supplies will be up 5.2%, and increase another 3.4% in 2017. This “type of rhetoric only serves to fuel the already bearish markets plaguing producers,” he wrote in the email.
Another producer sent us an email claiming our price quotes on Tennessee 6-weight calves was off the mark. We replied the prices had been taken directly from USDA Market News. Interestingly, he insisted our reporting was wrong, and if we “need more accurate information” we should call an 800-number he provided. The 800-number connected us to USDA Market News.
Further, he insisted in his email that “people like you is one reason farming and live-stock prices are the way they are.”
Another caller seemed to harbor similar contempt for people like me when he asked, “Have you ever fed cattle?”
Think about that for a moment. What is the right answer for “people like me?” In some ways it’s similar to asking someone “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
A “no” answer to my caller could suggest I don’t have the intellect to report on cattle markets. But, a “yes” answer might also confirm my limited intellectual capacity.
More important than these individual criticisms is the increasing level of producer frustration they signal. We’re quite aware a semi-load of 550-weight calves is worth $70,000 less today than it was two years ago. Our reporting of those facts will not change them.
Indeed, shedding light on those facts is the only thing that can help improve them. Without relevant market information you can’t make sound decisions for your family or your business. You might not like the news when we deliver it, but good or bad it is critical to your decision making.
Note: This story appears in the November/December issue of Drovers.