US Agricultural Research Service
The U.S. is in the midst of a serious cattle shortage. The national herd is at an all-time low, and feedlot population is down 12.5 percent. Back in 1975, there were 132 million heads of cattle; now there are less than 91 million.
Why is this happening? According to the BBC, there are two factors in play. The first: drought. About 80 percent of the agricultural land in the country has been affected by it in one way or the other, and that’s severely cutting down on the amount of land available for the cattle to graze on. Ranchers are forced to simply get rid of the animals that have no place to graze. The drought has also affected grain crops, whose yield is down 13 percent this year. If there’s less grain available to fatten up the herd, that makes for less cattle now and skinnier cattle in the long run.
The second factor at play is politics. According to a 2005 EPA mandate, a percentage of liquid fuel needs to come from renewable resources, namely ethanol from corn. Forty-two percent of all corn harvested this year will go toward ethanol production, with less and less going toward feeding cattle. Farmers asked the EPA to do away with the mandate earlier this year to help keep costs down, but the government refused.
So how will this affect our beef in the long run? Smaller cattle, eating more grass than grain. We’re past the point when all our corn can go toward feeding cattle and drought is going to be a constant reality, so the ranchers will just have to find new ways to adjust.