The US push to boost exports was a key theme running through the Iowa State Fair. Richard Halleron reports.
Beef farmers across the mid-west of the United States are up for more trade deals between their country and the rest of the world.
They recognise this will leave the US more open to imports from countries such as Ireland and other EU member states.
However, they fundamentally believe they should retain the right to implant steers with hormonal growth hormones.
“Residue problems are not an issue,” said Merle Witt, an officebearer with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. He was speaking at the recent Iowa State Fair, which attracts about one million visitors over an 11-day period.
“So why should our beef production practises be questioned in any way? Exports are our future. At the present time the association sends trade delegations to both China and Japan on a twice yearly basis. And, no doubt, this practice will gather momentum during the period ahead.”
The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has 10,000 members. It interacts with both the Iowa state legislature and the authorities in Washington on a range of economic and technical issues that have a direct bearing on the cattle sector.
Mr Witt confirmed US beef prices had fallen significantly over the past 12 months.
“This time last year, finishers were receiving $1.70/lb (£1.28/lb) for beef on the hoof. Today the figure is $1.20 (£0.91). The drop can be accounted for by the growing pressure on incomes right across the US economy over recent times.
“I am hoping farmer prices will stabilise at current levels. Cattle killed at the present time are leaving a profit of about $40 per head. There is a bonus paid on black cattle, which are assumed to be Angus-bred.
“Finishers in the Iowa area buy cattle in at around 700lbs live weight and bring them through to 1,300lbs over a 200-day period.”
Farmers in the mid-west are looking forward to bumper crops of corn and maize this autumn.
Mick Towers, a former president of Greene County Cattlemen’s Association, said: “From a husbandry point of view the only fly in the ointment has been some soya crops’ disposition to sudden death syndrome.
“High yields of corn and soya should bring about a drop in feed prices. But this is a bit of a double edged sword for farmers in Iowa, most of whom keep cattle while also growing crops."
Mr Towers also believed the future of the cattle industry in the US lay in its ability to export increasing quantities of beef to countries around the world. He had no issue with countries such as Ireland, or any other EU member state, exporting grass-fed beef into the American market.
“But it is a two-way street,” he said.
“The US beef industry must be allowed to have its share of world trade. It is all about providing everyone involved with a level playing field.”
The beginning of August saw the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reaching agreement with Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply to allow access for US beef and beef products to the Brazilian market for the first time since 2003.
Brazil’s action reflects the United States’ negligible risk classification for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The Brazilian agreement was just the latest example of USDA’s efforts to knock down barriers to US exports.
Since the beginning of 2016, these export-related initiatives have led to the reopening of the Saudi Arabian and Peruvian markets for US beef, the South Korean market for US poultry, and the South African market for US poultry, pork and beef.
In 2015, US beef exports reached $6.3 billion (£4.8bn).
Since January 2015, meat packers in the United States have secured additional market access in Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, Iraq, Lebanon, Macau, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Saint Lucia, Singapore, South Africa, Ukraine, Vietnam and, now, Brazil.