Cattle producers ride out scare

Prices are expected
to rebound quickly.
Sunday, January 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:59 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Gary Hudson has raised cattle in Columbia for about 40 years. Even in retirement, Hudson keeps about 35 cows and also raises heifers to sell every year.

Hudson believes consumers still have a hunger for beef, despite concerns raised by the recent case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy — also known as mad cow disease — reported in Washington. Hudson was among a standing-room only crowd of local farmers and cattle producers at Thursday’s auction at Callaway Livestock Center, east of Kingdom City.

Before the sale, Hudson, who had 14 head of cattle for sale, was anxious to see how bidders on more than 900 cows, cow-calf pairs and bulls would respond. Afterward, he was pleased by the results.

“The sale went better than what I expected,” Hudson said. “I thought they had some extremely good cattle, but they brought good prices. “

Others in the agriculture industry are watching prices, too. Ron Plain, MU agricultural extension economist, said most cattle producers are cautious but optimistic.

“Most cattlemen’s reaction right now is to do nothing,” Plain said. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now. Normally, few cattle are sold between the holidays.”

Plain said in times like these, producers have two choices. They can keep feeding cattle and wait for prices to go up, or they can sell and get as much money as possible.

Brent Bryant, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattleman Association, predicted that the market for beef will fluctuate over the next couple of weeks.

“Producers are going to see some lower prices in the short term,” he said, “but the industry is strong, and long-term prices will rebound quickly.”

At Thursday’s auction, cattle were selling for about the same price as a month ago, said John Harrison, part-owner of the Callaway Livestock Center. Bids for top-quality beef cattle ranged from $900 to $1,150.

Harrison, who had asked local producers to hold off bringing cattle to market during the holidays, is optimistic about the future of the industry.

“We were pleased with the sale, the number of people, the quality of cattle, everything,” he said.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported gains in the live cattle future prices on Friday, the first gains the market has seen since the mad cow case was confirmed Dec. 23.

The United States Department of Agriculture has said the infected cow entered the United States from Canada and was born before mammalian protein, the main pathway for the spread of the disease, was banned from cattle feed in 1997. Results of DNA tests to confirm the origin of the infected cow are expected later this week, said the USDA, which has instituted additional safeguards, including a ban on the slaughter of cattle that can’t walk, to protect consumers.

Following Thursday’s auction, John Harrison had a simple message for cattle producers: “Don’t panic and stay positive,” he said.

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