Farmers to see price drop if free trade exports stop

Duane Dailey

“Go count the cows.” That chore went to this farm boy when Dad needed to know that none had found a hole in the fence and fled the pasture.

Coming up one short, meant recounting and then starting a long look for a cow. First, look in the cornfield.

When you read this, USDA cow counters will have done a near impossible task. Count all cows in the country.

The census will be as of January 1, but not released until the 31st.

Last year, Missouri had 2,052,000 cows. I think there might still be a cow hiding out behind Timber Hill on our farm.

In 2017, Missouri ranked third in the nation, behind always first-place Texas and sometimes second-place Oklahoma. In the past, Missouri was 2nd.

In a great southwest drought of 2012, Oklahoma depopulated herds.

Good news for Missourians is Oklahoma regrowth came from Missouri. Some ranches bought truckloads of Show-Me-Select Heifers. That gives those herds a huge genetic boost.

Future profitable cow herds depend more on genomics than on cow count. Prime quality beef sells for much more than a Select calf.

We’re still in danger of outgrowing demand. Now we sell surplus beef in export, a reliable market.

As world economy grows, people eating rice diets find they like U.S. beef. They pay bigtime.

That demand keeps meat prices high, boosting our rural economy. Forecasters said that with more cows that beef prices would drop. They didn’t.

This was a case where plain old economics, supply and demand, shifted.

Selling quality meats abroad saved our bacon, so to speak.

Last week, our president shocked the rural economy. Trump, the deal maker, hinted he’d drop renewal of NAFTA. That’s the North American Free Trade Agreement which allows Missouri farmers to benefit by selling to our closest neighbors: Mexico and Canada.

Our president may have overlooked the vital nature of free trade. It’s not just beef, which I follow closest. Corn and soybean farmers are hit hard.

A shocking story came from a group I’d never heard before: Farmers for Free Trade. They listed the impact of putting tariffs on our products. I suppose Trump thinks tariffs will fund building a wall.

The new report names states hit hardest by the lost trade. This is where Missouri doesn’t want to be No. 1, but we are.

At the Missouri Cattlemen’s Convention, Scott Brown asked for a show of hands. How many have more cows now than last year. Lots of hands went up.

At that point the MU economist said we’ll have to eat more beef here in the U.S. if trade is cut.

Domestic demand for beef remains strong. But, that demand is located in cities where rich folks live.

I tried to find this week the numbers on disparity between rural and big city economies. No luck, yet.

But the Wall Street Journal ran a story on U.S. economic growth. Just look at the soaring stock market. For the first time I’ve seen the WSJ say stock market growth is based on greed rather than reality. Our president doesn’t see it that way. His leadership makes stocks rise, he says.

Farmers have stepped up to their challenge. A growing world population needs more food. Farmers responded by growing more.

But if we build walls and deport consumers, we’ll have to eat more at higher prices. That trend might hurt rural areas.

I have a suggestion for herd owners. When counting cows, use an aerial drone with video camera.

When Bill Wiebold used a drone to scout crops, I said, I needed that as a boy to count cows. He assured me I wasn’t the first to say that. The drone flies to the far side of Timber Hill faster than I can run.

Meanwhile, eat more meat. Maybe even wrap it in a corn tortilla.

Write to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.