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Nebraska ranchers reach milestone, pass Texas to become 1 in cattle

Author: Kristy

They deserve a tip of the cowboy hat

The Beef State is officially No. 1.

The latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that Nebraska — long in the No. 2 spot — this year surpassed Texas to become the nation’s leading cattle-feeding state.

Nebraska’s 2.46 million head of cattle on feed exceeded the Texas number by 20,000 head.

That margin is small enough that Texas might inch back up to the No. 1 spot, but the bottom line is that Nebraska’s cattle sector is impressively robust and, what’s more, gaining momentum — facts that underscore the Governor’s Ag Conference that will open Wednesday in Kearney.

Nebraska benefits from a hearty economic output from the state’s cattle sector, valued at $12 billion according to the Nebraska Beef Council. Nebraska’s ranchers generate 40 percent of the state’s total farm receipts.

The cattle industry has wide-ranging economic connections to cities and towns, too, with Nebraska’s large food processing industry.

Gov. Dave Heineman rightly says the new cattle numbers signal a “milestone” for Nebraska’s agriculture economy. Greg Ibach, director of the state Department of Agriculture, notes that Nebraska benefits from having “nearly 23 million acres of range and pastureland, an excellent partnership with the University [of Nebraska] and a strong processing sector.”

Nebraska has a proud cattle tradition going back to the earliest cowboy days. That legacy shaped Omaha, too, through South Omaha’s historic connections to the packing industry and Stockyards.

A detailed report from UNL Extension last year explained an array of factors that are strengthening the cattle sector in Nebraska and the rest of the northern Plains region.

Nebraska’s cattle sector enjoys generally lower production costs, the Extension report said. Two key factors are involved. Transportation costs are lower because packing plants are present in great numbers. Feed costs are lower because producers have ready access to distillers grains byproducts from ethanol production.

Which isn’t to say that the cattle business in Nebraska is worry-free. Far from it. One big impact comes from the weather, of course. Texans can vouch for that, given their state’s struggles against drought. Since 2008, the annual Texas calf total has fallen by nearly 19 percent.

The severe drought in that part of the country is one reason why Nebraska has moved ahead in cattle numbers and why there is a general shift of cattle production into the northern Plains.

Nebraska’s cattle industry has come quite a way since the first ranchers pushed a herd over a Sand Hills dune and since the first group of dust-covered cowboys brought a herd of Texas cattle into Ogallala.

Achieving the No. 1 position is a feather in Nebraska’s cap. Above all, it’s a great reflection on the hard work and leadership shown by the state’s cattle producers.

Posted in In The Industry |
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