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The USDA will be conducting a survey in January to determine the cattle inventory in Missouri and across the nation. Officials said the information will help producers make informed business decisions, such as whether to expand or contract their operations.

The long-term direction of the beef industry could hang in the balance once Northwest Missouri’s cattle operations are surveyed in January.

The USDA is conducting the beef and dairy census in the state to help the federal government determine an updated inventory of livestock throughout the nation. Observers said the statistics will prove vital in helping the government and associated agencies determine whether the industry will experience expansion or contraction.

“It gives the industry, as well as other entities, a snapshot of projected calf crop” numbers, said Jim Humphrey, field specialist in livestock for University Extension in Andrew County. “There’s always a slight increase or decrease for whatever reason. We know we’ve been killing a lot of culled (removed from the herd) calves.”

Humphrey told News-Press NOW the data also will help in estimating the extent of the stocker cattle and feeder cattle population for the winter of 2020-’21. Stocker cattle are those destined to go for sale that have not yet entered a feedlot. Feeder cattle are heifers or steers that have been placed in a feedlot prior to slaughter. The survey also will detail the potential number of animals to be harvested from mid-2020 and on into 2021. The number of calves to be born also will be included.

But the basic economics of the industry become the most prominent concerns stemming from the questionnaires.

“Are we going to have a huge increase or decrease?” asked Humphrey. “How do you meet demand?”

He said producers have encountered difficulties in the past few years from scarce and expensive forage linked to the drought, along with the rigors of extended inclement weather. Culling is done for various reasons, including poor animal health, and is often done in drought years.

There may not be as much concern for the number of steers with this survey, according to Humphrey, as opposed to the number of heifers in the feed yards.

“That’s probably going to have an impact” over the ensuing 18 months, he added of heifers.

Nationwide, Humphrey said 11 percent more heifers have been harvested this year as fat cattle, which are fed special rations in the lot to allow further growth.

A follow-up survey will be conducted July 1 to help confirm or perhaps reassess the earlier projections.

“It’s actually going to give a more accurate (number) of how many calves are born this spring” that will be traceable to weather and health issues, Humphrey said. “Are we liquidating any of the herd, or are we expanding? While one area (of the nation) may be liquidating, another may be expanding.”

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said Missouri has 1,500 cattle operations. Bob Garino, the state’s statistician for NASS, said the survey information also helps packers and the federal government evaluate anticipated future slaughter volume and establish potential export supplies.

Beef and dairy producers may respond to the survey via the internet, telephone or mail, or through an interview with an agency representative. Per law, all of the submitted information is kept confidential. Only state- and national-level data will be published in a forthcoming report, with no individuals or operations to be identified.

Last January, the USDA placed the size of the nation’s herd at 94.8 million head of cattle. The herd numbered 88.2 million for all cattle and calves to start 2014, in what became the smallest size for the U.S. since 1952.The department said last year’s cattle production accounted for $67.1 billion in cash receipts, or 18 percent of the $371 billion in total cash receipts comprising agricultural commodities from 2018.

Later this month, the agriculture department will take inventories of the nation’s sheep and goat producers, including the more than 500 in the state.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.