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Livestock herds dwindling with economy

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Today’s economy means people are eating out and purchasing meat products less often, but cattle and hog producers have learned to make the most of tough times.

John Michael Riley, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agricultural economist, said producers work hard to keep their product affordable when money is tight.

“Cattle supplies are down considerably nationwide. Herds are shrinking; the number of cattle on feed is down,” he said. “There is less product available, which is good, but demand is also down because of the economy.”

Riley said hog markets are facing similar challenges with supply and demand.

“Hogs are not down as much as cattle. Pork production is expected to be flat through 2011, whereas cattle will be down,” Riley said. “Regarding livestock feed costs, corn has been on a rollercoaster depending on demand from China and the weather. Because the weather looks good now, feed costs are coming down.”

Extension beef cattle specialist Jane Parish said Mississippi cattle have managed to buck the national downward trend.

“While the rest of the country was going down, Mississippi cattle inventory actually went up slightly,” she said. “One reason could be the good reputation of our cattle. Mississippi and Southeastern cattle are outperforming cattle from other parts of the country in terms of carcass quality, health and overall performance.”

Despite challenges, Mississippi’s weather conditions in recent years have been better for feed production than the weather in some cattle-producing states. Land prices are also favorable for livestock production.

Mississippi’s cattle numbers have increased to almost one million, but the number of producers has decreased, which means the state has more cattle per farm.

“About seven or eight years ago, we had about 25,000 producers; now we are under 21,000,” she said. “We have new cattle producers, but we are losing producers faster than we are adding.”

Extension swine specialist Mark Crenshaw said hog markets just improved to breakeven prices in the spring, unlike the previous 18 months. He credits slightly increased demand and lower feed costs.

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