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Iowa seeks to expand state’s cattle industry
Iowa Correspondent

AMES, Iowa — With nearly 9,000 cattle farms scattered across all 99 counties, Iowa’s beef officials are exploring ways to expand the Hawkeye State’s cattle industry, which ranks seventh nationally in beef production.

“Cattle are produced in every county in Iowa,” said John Lawrence, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agricultural economist. “Expanding this industry will no doubt create economic activity, jobs, tax revenue and enhance the economy of rural communities and the entire state.”

As the director of the Iowa Beef Industry Center on the ISU campus, Lawrence will be one of several keynote speakers at two major conferences next month to educate cattle producers on how to increase the state’s 3.8 million head of cattle on its 8,940 farms.

To date, U.S. beef production generates employment for nearly 27,000 Iowans, nearly $2.1 billion in cash receipts and adds more than $5 billion to the state’s economy.

What’s more, Iowa cattle herds provide a critical market for Iowa’s crop farmers, consuming nearly 160 million bushels of corn annually.

Entitled Growing Iowa’s Cattle Industry: Ethanol, Opportunities and Economic Development and hosted by ISU’s Value-Added Agriculture Program (VAAP), the June 5 event is sponsored by the Iowa Area Development Group, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Assoc., the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Assoc. and the Professional Developers of Iowa.

Held at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s headquarters in West Des Moines, Lawrence said the conference will focus on the potential growth for Iowa’s economy.

“It is an exciting time for Iowa producers,” he said. “They have had a profitable 2003, 2004 and 2005 and see the vast opportunity that expanded ethanol production offers them and fellow Iowans.

“Many have expanded feedlots already and others are looking to do so in the future.”

In fact, Iowa will soon produce almost 11 billion pounds of distillers grains per year, which would reduce the cost of grain for cattle fed near an ethanol plant even further.

Lawrence said ethanol production is creating new opportunities to feed cattle more effectively in Iowa, with many producers using distiller grains.

“Some feedlots are expanding the size of their operation,” he said. “In other cases, producers are using ethanol to reduce their winter feed cost for beef cow herds. A strong cattle feedlot sector is important to the success of ethanol production, and an increased livestock production is important for economic development in rural Iowa.”

Mary Holz-Clause, director of the Value-Added Agriculture Program, said feeding cattle is the original value-added agriculture investment in Iowa.

“Corn, produced abundantly in the state, offers producers easy access to low-cost inputs when corn prices are low,” she said. “The explosion of ethanol plants in the state also provides feedlots with an additional feedstuff in co-products.”

“Iowa is producing more corn than ever,” Holz-Clause said. “Feeding corn to cattle offers a way to increase the value of the corn crop. We see this turning point as an opportunity to leverage all of Iowa’s advantages, and good managers can produce beef better in Iowa than any other region in North America because of our inherent advantage of low-cost feed inputs.”

Alongside its active role in the Value-Added Agriculture Program’s June 5 conference, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Assoc. (ICA) will be hosting its annual Summer Conference and Trade Show, June 15-16 at the Ag Information Center in Nevada, Iowa, to help state cattle producers find new avenues to increase their herds.

Mick Kreidler, ICA communications director, said while many are coping with governmental regulations, ICA members are generally optimistic about Iowa’s cattle industry.

“Even as they work to comply with environmental rules, many producers are expanding their operations, in part to cover the costs of compliance,” she said.

“They also recognize that this is a good time to increase their cattle numbers, due to the availability of inexpensive feeds, as well as a better understanding of the potential benefits of expanding the livestock industry in Iowa by many lenders and other businesses that support our ag producers in Iowa.”

Like Lawrence and Holz-Clause, Kreidler said Iowa cattle producers who attend the joint VAAP/ICA June 5 conference will learn that opportunities abound right now to increase their cattle numbers with the availability of low-cost ethanol co-products.

“As more ethanol plants are built throughout the state, cattle producers are evaluating the economics, and in many cases, deciding to expand their operations to take advantage of the inexpensive feed sources from these new ethanol plants,” she said.

“As lenders and others become more aware of the positive outlook for expanding livestock numbers in the state, they will be able to help producers with their expansion plans.”

In the long run, Holz-Clause said Iowa is positioned to take advantage of emerging external factors to grow the production of high-quality beef.

“With the availability of quality feedstuffs and the Iowa mentality to embrace agriculture as the backbone of this state, the cattle industry is being viewed as a potential economic developer for Iowa.”

This farm news was published in the May 10, 2006 issue of Farm World.