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Cattle producers face numerous challenges. Sustaining their operations in a secure community context has importance for animal care, resource management, and keeping the business profitable. Social challenges producers face often relate to dynamics changing in the population, ranging from consumer preferences to land-use change, to immigration policy. Project objectives were to collect and analyze national- and regional-scale socio-economic and industry data relevant to community security issues and U.S. beef production sustainability.
63 sociological interviews were conducted with producers and industry experts across all 7 NCBA regions. National-scale inventory, financial, and demographic data were collected and analyzed primarily for national/regional trends and cases of state-level variability.
Over the last several decades, the US beef industry has continued to consolidate, with greater concentration of the inventory moving northward and to the center of the U.S. While feedyards and a relatively small percentage of large operations dominate a majority of the total inventory, a majority of producers across regions operate with <100 head, and the vast majority of those have <50 head. This dichotomy ties directly to community security issues by compounding challenges with ranch succession, large-scale effects in the environment (e.g., drought, disease risk, invasive plants, wildlife conservation, etc), and population dynamics external to production. Based on interview data collected directly with producers, many experience long-term anxiety and worry over operation viability from year-to-year as well as legacy effects related to ranch succession. The majority of producers described greater levels and diversity of threats to their operations having worsened in recent years compounding the ‘normal’ economic cycle within the beef industry.
While the industry must value attention to policy and programming that addresses both the animals and producers, the inverse dichotomy in these results indicates the need for management about this structural challenge which may grow wider over time. As such, additional strain could occur for the majority of producers tied to rural community landscapes and places they rely on not only for equipment and inputs, but also social connectivity and options for secure ranch succession. Because of the large tracts of land managed by thousands of operators nationwide, cattle producers also contemplate resource stewardship daily and need community-based support to maintain that environmental health. As such, industry programming to sustain security for rural communities has vital implications for the long-term infrastructure and human base needed to meet the supply/demand balance of providing quality protein to the US population and export markets. These factors relate to risk management and emphasize the value, if not need, to maintain a diversity and range of operation size within production sectors, geographies, and processing/distribution. The synthesized social- and economic-related data for this analysis indicate that gradient of diversity is fundamental to long-term community security and viability for cattle producers.