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Contact: Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124,

Don’t Wait on the Government When It Comes to Selling Cattle

AMES, Iowa -- Since the Dec. 23 announcement of a single positive BSE (commonly known as mad cow disease) case in the United States, there has been discussion of a possible government assistance program. However, John Lawrence, Iowa State University Extension economist and director of the Iowa Beef Center, cautions producers not to wait on a program that may or may not happen.

A governmental assistance program was put into effect by the Canadian government shortly after the May 20, 2003, discovery of a single case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) in Alberta, and some industry leaders anticipate a similar program for U.S. producers. The Canadian program compensated farmers for a portion of the price decline related to BSE.

“ While anything is possible in an election year, some have contended that U.S. producers benefited from the case of BSE in Canada, and now have been hurt by BSE in the U.S., so the two events are offsetting,” says Lawrence. Likewise, Canada exports roughly 50 percent of its total beef production, while the U.S. exports only about 10 percent of its production. As a result, the price decline is not expected to be as dramatic and it may be months before the full extent of the damage is known.

Lawrence adds, “The key point for producers is to not delay marketing decisions while waiting on the government to take action. Market cattle to the best of your ability and keep sufficient records to prove your case if a program is announced.” Records that will likely be needed to complete an application for assistance are expected to include:

  • Sales records and prices received (receipts, scale tickets, etc).
  • Where the animals were sold and to whom and when
  • Description of the animals sold including number of head and weight
  • Any expenses incurred

As producers mull over which records to retain, Lawrence simply says, “If in doubt, keep it.”

The Iowa Beef Center began operation in 1996 with a legislative mandate to support the growth and vitality of the beef cattle industry of the state. A part of Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Beef Center is the central access point for Iowa State University programs related to the beef industry. For more information, visit the Web site at or call (515) 294-BEEF. Additional information on BSE is posted on the ISU Extension Web site at


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