Cattle producers living high on the hog

By Baxter Black: QCS columnist

The beef market for the last two years must be driving economists nuts.

There are so many factors affecting the price of cattle other than supply and demand, the playing field is littered with mortar craters. It would be analogous to a basketball game where baskets count, but one could also earn points by number of hot dogs sold to visiting fans, near misses, the basketball futures, dress code violations, percentage of left-handers in the World Series and number of junior high kids over 6-foot-4-inches tall.

Screaming headlines cause wild fluctuations in the cattle market: “BSE found in U.S.!” “Japan restricts beef imports!” “Hamburger is fattening!” “Burger King is giant-sizing Whoppers!” “Canadian border may (or may not) open!” “Mushroom Check Off ruled illegal!” “Beef Check Off ruled illegal!” “Property rights diminished!” “Michael Jackson found not guilty!” “Beef Check Off ruled legal!” “Ronald McDonald is Wendy’s illegitimate child!”

Logic has no bearing on the market fluctuations. How would Denmark’s ban on Ukrainian beef drive our market down? A dairy buyout announcement that doesn’t start for months caused an immediate drop on the price of live cattle?

What’s an economist going to do when cattle numbers are predicted to go up and the beef imports to be reduced?

Economists are a nervous group anyway. They are expected to predict the market through a blizzard of B.S.E. regulations, TB and Bangs restrictions, Homeland Security investigations, multinational mergers, political promises, international treaties, interstate restrictions, C.E.O.
indictments and frivolous food safety scares!

The typical producer has become numb to the barrage of outlandish news releases intended to shake them to their boot heels. The sales price, particularly for the cow-calf man, has been the best he’s ever seen. Right now he is actually investing in a time-share on cloud nine!

Consumers too have become immune to the B.S.E., anthrax, e-coli, cancer, Chicken Littles. They are more selective in the meat they buy because of price, but every head sold to the packer gets eaten.

Which leaves the economists, brave and true, behind the eight ball. When I think of economists in today’s unsettled time, I’m reminded of that weatherman on the Weather Channel broadcasting live from Hurricane Ivan; the economist clinging to a light pole, feet off the ground, flying horizontally, fighting for his life and talking on his cell phone.

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: