Where's the beef? A lot of it is in Brazil

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:02:07Z Where's the beef? A lot of it is in BrazilBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

The invasion of illegal human immigrants isn't the only problem along our southern border.

According to Neil Hannon, whose family has farmed and raised cattle in Morgan Township in Porter County since the Civil War, cattle are being brought into the U.S. from Brazil through Mexico in such numbers that they are controlling the beef market.

It's all because America has a cow shortage.

"Now is the lowest beef cow inventory in the country since 1952 because of various droughts that have happened," Hannon said. "It started in the Southeast and Southwest and affected other areas. California is having a drought now that's causing the newest slaughterhouse to close and lay off 1,300 people.

"Brazil and China are some of the biggest influences on the market," he said. "A lot of the lower end beef that will be used in fast food restaurants is being controlled all the way from conception to consumption by Brazil, and it's influencing the demands."

The low beef production in the U.S. plus the loss of 100,000 cows last fall in an early snowstorm means restaurants and supermarkets are locking onto the lower prices for poultry and pork. Restaurants that don't want to pay high prices for beef for low-priced meals are using the lower grade Brazilian beef, Hannon said.

He projected it will take the U.S. industry about five years to replenish the stock, barring other disasters, but he expects the demand for high quality beef to be strong despite the record high prices, especially when some countries pay $100 an ounce for top quality beef.

"A farmer has to be sharper to be profitable," he said. "If universities aren't teaching it and the farmers are not up on the latest, they won't be around and all the beef will be from Brazil."

The Hannons have been breeding black Angus and Simmental cattle, experimenting with the genetics to create a better beef producer.

"It used to be the target was to have a year-old cow weigh 1,000 pounds," Hannon said. "Now, it they don't weigh 1,500 pounds and eat 20 percent less, we feel the genetics are not in place, and we can't be competitive."

Since feed is the largest expense of raising beef, and the price of hay and grain have been high recently, the less a cow eats to reach the desired size and weight, the better the profit for the farmer.

Bob Wichlinski, whose family raises 4-H show cattle, said this year's tough winter is increasing costs for things like keeping water and food thawed that hasn't been done for several years.

The Hannons also work in the field of embryo transfers to speed the production of cattle with the most desirable genetic traits. Young cows with the desirable traits are induced to produce a large number of eggs that are implanted in other young cows.

"We've been trying to pass regulations on labeling the country of origin of meat so consumers know where it comes from," he said. "Our concern is for all the beef coming from Brazil. The Brazilians own more slaughterhouses than any of the corporations in the U.S., and consumers will buy the lower-dollar beef.

"There's nothing more disheartening than paying a big price for what you think is a prime cut and it isn't, and there's no way of tracing where it's from."

He said a couple of cases were discovered recently in which a form of plastic was used as feed that expands to add weight to the cows. China and Russia are expanding their beef production at a rapid pace to feed their people, and Russia recently invested millions to buy cattle from the Dakotas to raise in the Ukraine, which has a similar climate.

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