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Improving technology allows agriculture to meet growing demands

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Denver, Colo. – “We can feed multitudes with less land and less water. We can produce floods of milk with fewer cows, and millions of pounds of beef with less feed,” said Keith Belk of Colorado State University. “Technology is vital when it comes to producing more with less, or producing food at all.”
    Belk, along with Rod Bowling of AgriFood Solutions International and Travis Choat of Elanco, looked at what technologies are important to increase production to feed the growing world population at a presentation during the International Livestock Congress on Jan. 10 in Denver, Colo.
    According to Choat, it will be necessary to produce 100 percent more food by the year 2050, and 70 percent of that has to come from technology. The World Health Organization defines “technology” as practices, products and genetics, he added, noting that improvements must be made to accommodate high beef demand.
Capital management
    Choat pinpointed both markets and capital as the drivers of short-term behaviors in ag business.  
    “The way people manage their businesses will ultimately define whether they can produce more beef,” said Choat, highlighting consumer demand and the ability to help feed the world as the primary motivators behind increasing production capability.
    He emphasized that the availability and management of capital defines the ability of producers to operate, and both feed efficiency and animal health management are important to utilizing capitol more effectively.
    “One percent feed efficiency equals about five dollars per head in the feed yard,” commented Choat, “but it’s also about the output.”
    From 2005 to 2010, Choat cited statistics that say that operating a 40,000-head feed yard cost about $45 million per year, and that is expected to increase to $64 million in 2012, making capital management very important.
    Choat also noted that producers seem to be doing a relatively good job overall for hitting optimal target weights for profitability, according to data analysis by Daryl Tatum of Colorado State University.
    “There are lots of things that tie into both practices and products,” noted Choat, identifying implants, ionophores and beta-agonists as the top three products that improve production potential.
    “They improve productivity, and they are a profitable technology for producers to use,” explained Choat.
    He added that it is possible to manage for an optimal end product using the implants, particularly.
    “We have studied implants for the long term,” said Choat. “They impact the end product, and they are a profitable technology for customers to use.”
    Choat also identified beta-agonists, though they’re a subject of criticism in the global marketplace, as being useful in producing quality beef.
    “We believe that we have the markets to support use of beta-agonists,” he said. “Export demand is as good as it has ever been, and close to 60 percent of cattle are getting a beta agonist.”
    He emphasized, however, that every operation is unique, and individual producers see varying dynamics on their ranches that can be managed differently.
    Bowling also commented, “If you use beta agonists in good, strong, medium-framed cattle, we see very predictable responses.”
    When utilized in other groups, such as very young cattle or young bulls – what Bowling described as “rough cattle” – responses are more erratic.
    “I don’t think the product was designed for use in those groups,” he said. “If producers are going to use the technology, they have a responsibility to manage it and don’t abuse it.”
    Choat also added that beta-agonists can be managed to maintain productivity and manage meat tenderness and quality.
    “I think if we’re not careful with beta-agonists we could easily push China, Korea and Japan into some of the hormone trade barriers like we have with the Europeans,” added Bowling. “That would be unfortunate, and we’ll have to be very careful.”
Protectionist attitudes?
    “We need to abandon the protectionist part of out thinking,” said Bowling. “Let’s promote U.S. beef and feed the world.”
    Bowling noted that in promoting American beef, exporting not only food products, but also live animals, is important, saying that some countries, such as Kazakhstan and Russia, are taking advantage of U.S. genetics.
    “The Kazakhstani government came to the U.S. and wanted to pick cattle that were environmentally capable of producing in their cold climate,” explained Bowling. “They contracted 10,000 bred Angus heifers and 10,000 bred Hereford heifers, and they are relying on a lot of resources to do that.”
     He noted that the freight cost for flying cattle to countries around the world is over $3,700 per head, and governments are footing these costs to increase cattle herds.
    Also, as the Choice-Select spread continues to increase, Bowling argued that the demand for premium genetics continues to increase, meaning that countries will continue to spend the money to acquire high-quality cattle.
    Ultimately, to meet consumer beef demand and demand for premium cattle genetics, both Choat and Bowling agreed utilizing and appropriately managing new technology is essential, and continuing to develop new products and practices will aid in meeting those needs
    “Over time, we want to make sure that if we don’t have all the answers, at least we have the right questions,” added Choat. “It is a very complex topic.”
    Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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