Stories distort cow facts, then trade war hits farms

Duane Dailey

Cows made headlines last week. If those led to a big story in The New York Times it’s not good for farmers.

But there were many stories in smaller papers and farm press that brought good news.

The same was happening with hogs.

Stories in major media are written by journalists not from a farm. That means wording won’t sound quite right to farm readers. Stories in farm country papers more likely sound real. The same with farm magazines.

A page-and-half of stories in Saturday’s Times started my thinking.

The head: “Drugs go to healthy cattle. Should consumers be worried?”

Just reading the headline makes me worry. Sure enough, the story doesn’t emphasize big changes made in farm drug use. Now farmers cannot buy antibiotics if they don’t have a veterinarian working with them.

To me, calling antibiotics an industrial additive doesn’t sound right.

The fact that a company feeds a million cattle a year makes them “industrial” to a city journalist. It’s modern agriculture. Words make a difference.

The story doesn’t emphasize that antibiotics bring fewer death losses. That helps make beef available at prices people can pay.

We’ve made amazing progress in keeping cattle alive. We want healthy animals. Cattle dying from disease means lost food. And, that’s lost dollars for farms.

We need lots of beef. I read a weekly feedlot report. In one week, in mid-March, 600,000 calves went to packers. That week, those carcasses were six pound heavier than one year ago.

Those six pounds amount to an extra 1,800 tons of beef to eat in a week. I won’t even try the math on how many quarter-pounders that makes.

Cow-calf herd owners, major money makers in Missouri’s economy, have geared up to feed the world. No one else in the world has the ability to produce Prime corn-fed beef like we do.

After decades of work, cattle producers reopened the market to China. In the U.S. we eat 80 pounds beef per capita per year. Now China eats 10 pounds per person. That’s potential for Missouri.

Hog producers have led in shipping pork to China. Chinese prefer pork. But, they are learning to love Prime beef. What a dollar return that can be to U.S. and Missouri farms.

I’d just written a story last week from the Womack Baseline Outlook conference. Scott Brown told of the need to export our surplus beef. China was named as huge potential.

On top of that story fell a much bigger story from the U.S. President. He declared a trade war with China. Already they have slapped a 25 percent tariff on our pork. No word yet on what happens to beef demand.

Radio commentators on POTUS channel said this could mean recession across mid-America — farm country.

After years of MU Extension beef education to boost beef production we get whammed. And, Missouri farm groups helped restore free trade with China. I hope that was not for naught.

In trade wars, farmers become casualties. Maybe next week the President will try to undo his damage done. But, he knows less about farming than big city journalists. A point in our favor, maybe he’ll remember Missouri farmers helped elect him.

The Missouri soybean growers have a dog in this scrap. Beans are the major cash crop here. We’re situated just right, north to south, to grow soybeans. We were leaders, starting back in the depression in converting soybean legumes from forage to an oilseed and protein crop.

Again, China is a huge bean customer. About half our soybeans are exported and 60 percent of those go to China. What happens to that market in an ag trade war? We have a lock on Prime beef. Not so for beans. Brazil wants that trade. It seems to me trade wars are not easy to win by farmers.

Your ideas to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.