Where’s the beef — Missouri or Kansas?

Sunday, January 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

No one disputes that Texas raises more cattle and produces more beef than any other state.

But who is No. 2?

Both Missouri and Kansas make the claim, although the actual ranking may not be as important as what impact, if any, the recent case of mad cow disease in Washington will have on each state’s economy.

A year ago, when the most recent figures were released, Kansas had 6.35 million cattle on ranches and in feed lots — some 2.1 million more than Missouri. Cattle in Kansas feed lots, where the animals are fattened and eventually slaughtered, far outnumbered those in Missouri — 2.4 million to about 70,000.

Because cattle in feed lots eventually end up in the butcher’s window, Missouri sells much less beef than Kansas. In 2002, Kansas had a commercial cattle slaughter of 9 billion pounds versus about 113 million pounds in Missouri.

According to Kansas’ state statistician Eldon Thiessen, that makes Kansas the No. 2 cattle state in the country.

“Kansas doesn’t have as many ranches where calves are being raised, but when it comes to the amount of cattle on feed, Kansas is No. 2,” Thiessen said.

However, Missouri produces more of what some experts say is the essential ingredient: calves.

In 2002, about 2 million calves were born in Missouri — a half-million more than in Kansas. Missouri also had twice as many farms where calves are born and raised, 64,000 in all.

“We (Missouri) are the ones who sell the little calves,” said Tommy Sallee, an agricultural statistician for the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service. “We have a lot of open land, especially in southern Missouri. You can’t raise a lot of things on it because it’s too rocky and hilly. We use that marginal land to raise cattle.”

Thiessen and Sallee agree that, raw numbers aside, the real issue is how much each state’s economy relies on the beef industry. Beef prices have dipped since Dec. 23, when a single dairy cow in Washington state was found to be infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease.

Sallee acknowledges that, in 2002, Kansas produced more than $4 billion worth of beef for the marketplace, second only to Texas. Missouri had a gross income of $849 million from the production and sale of cattle during that same year, he said.

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