Extension News

Iowa’s Beef Producers Anticipate Bright Future, But Not Without Challenges


AMES, Iowa –– Iowa’s beef producers are looking forward to the future, but know that it will not come without challenges, according to a recent survey conducted by the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) at Iowa State University (ISU) and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA). 

In January, 1,250 surveys were sent to Iowa’s feedlots, and 1,250 surveys sent to cowherds. Approximately 350 of each survey were returned. The IBC and ICA are using the survey to better target research, education and policy efforts.

“We found that the average age of people who responded to the survey was 52 for both feedlots and cowherds, which is younger than the average age of Iowa farmers,” says John Lawrence, ISU Extension economist and director of IBC.  “It was also encouraging that 60 percent expected that a son or daughter will return to the farm and continue the cattle operation in the future.”

Respondents were asked the approximate size of their farm operation. Cow-calf operators’ data stated that their average farm operation was 583 acres of row crops, 442 acres of hay and pasture, 172 fed cattle marketed, and 152 cows in the herd. Feedlot respondents’ data showed that the average farm operation was 1059 acres of row crops, 241 acres of hay and pasture, 1,752 fed cattle marketed and 163 cows in the cow-calf herd.

When asked about time spent working with livestock, off-farm jobs, and spouse’s employment, the average responses for both cow-calf and feedlot participants responded that over half of their time was spent on livestock, over 60 percent of their spouse’s time was spent at off-farm jobs, and the majority of their hired labor’s time was spent on livestock. However, there were differences in time spent at off-farm jobs. Seventy-two percent of the cow-calf respondents stated that they or their spouse worked off the farm during 2004, compared to 58 percent of the feedlot respondents. 

“Many producers surveyed are growth-minded. Half of the feedlots were feeding more cattle today than they were five years ago and over a third were at the same size,” adds Lawrence. “The biggest challenge that feedlots saw to additional growth was environmental regulations.”

Not surprisingly, feedlots also identified environmental protection as the highest policy priority, but rated it only as fifth out of 10 as a research and education priority. Cattle health and financial and marketing were the highest research and education priorities for feedlots.

Cowherds identified availability of land as the biggest obstacle to growth of their business. Yet, research and education on grazing systems to improve efficient use of land resources was rated as sixth or seventh out of ten priorities. The most important research and education priorities for beef cowherds were cattle health, genetic selection, and financial and marketing. The highest policy priority for cowherds was also environmental protection, according to Lawrence.

When looking to the future, the majority of both groups of respondents stated that a son or daughter will eventually take over the cattle operation. However, 42 percent of cow-calf respondents and 38 percent of feedlot respondents stated that it is not likely that their cattle operation will be passed down to family.

“The Iowa Beef Center and Iowa Cattlemen’s Association are eager to put this information to use, determining where our areas of research and focus should be for years to come,” states Lawrence. “At ISU, we are already beginning to shape our future projects and Extension programming around what we have learned.”


Contacts :

John Lawrence, Economics, (515) 294-6290, jdlaw@iastate.edu

Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124, remartin@iastate.edu