For cattle ranchers including Luke Reimers of Orland, beef exports play an important role in their marketing strategy. Reimers, who ranched with his father Del Reimers at Black Butte Ranch, is raising a large group of steers that in a few months will be processed for beef to be shipped to Japan.”The Japanese particularly look for black, naturally bred cattle. They will be fed out here in California, processed and shipped to Japan. They will be processed at about 15 to 16 months of age when they weigh about 840 pounds,” he said.
Reimers said that there are more challenges involved in raising cattle for the Japanese market because the buyers want only black cows that are raised naturally. For a number of California beef producers, exports are very important, says Kevin Kester, a Monterey County cattle rancher and president of the California Cattlemen’s Association.
“For 2011, exports equal about 13 to 15 percent of U.S. beef production, so they are really helping prop up our beef markets right now,” he said. “California producers do source and age verification on their cows, which makes them eligible to go overseas to countries like Japan and South Korea, which are two of our best markets.”While prices being received by beef producers are strong for both domestic and export markets, input costs are taking their toll, both Reimers and Kester acknowledged.
While Reimers held back some of his heifers in order to increase the size of his herd, many cattle ranchers are taking advantage of the current market and sending most of their steers and heifers to processors.
“Because of a host of factors, we haven’t seen any evidence yet across the industry in California and the U.S. that cow-calf producers are starting to expand very much at all,” Kester said. “Because of high input costs, the economy and the uncertainty of Mother Nature across the country—especially in Texas and Oklahoma—ranchers just aren’t ready to hold back their heifers. They would rather sell at these record prices and get the cash.”
Beef numbers in California are actually on the decline.Policies like the federal estate tax have a huge effect on keeping a ranch intact from one generation to the next. The production-cost challenges facing cattle ranchers make the successs of export markets even more important to them, according to Philip Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
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Export Strength Helps Market for Beef Cattle