An ‘impossible’ change may be coming to California beef cattle industry
Plant-based burgers could take a bigger financial bite
By Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat
via The Mercury News (CA) - May 9, 2019
With the popularity of the plant-based “Impossible Whopper” continuing to grow nationwide and the worldwide consumption of beef increasing what’s a cattle rancher to do when it comes to calculating costs?
To be clear, beef cattle won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Barring a leap in laboratory-grown meat, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the global number of ruminant livestock (cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat) is predicted to rise from 4.1 billion to 5.8 billion through 2050.
The increasing number of cattle puts a tremendous strain on the environment through land-use, feed stocks and water as well as the gas and manure emitted by individual cows. A study of American farm data in 2014 estimated that, calorie for calorie, beef production requires three times as much animal feed as pork production and produces almost five times as much greenhouse gases. Other estimates suggest it uses 2 1/2 times the amount of water.
Then, there’s Burger King’s meat-free Impossible Whopper, which was launched in early April at 59 restaurants in Missouri. That test was so successful by the end of 2019, Burger King wants to bring that burger to all 7,200 of its U.S. restaurants.
That will represent the largest meat-free fast-food experiment in the country. According to the Washington Post, the closest in size is Carl’s Jr., which is selling its Beyond Famous Star, made with Beyond Beef, at more than 1,000 restaurants.
Another factor to be thrown into cost calculations is another state report that records high numbers of California dairy and livestock producers seeking funds to switch to alternative manure management, upgrade their operations and reduce their production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture received applications from 91 dairies and livestock operations to the Alternative Manure Management Program, seeking $54.6 million in funding, far exceeding the maximum of $33 million in available funds. The program funds dairy and livestock operations to switch from wet manure handling and storage to dry manure management.
“We saw a big increase in interest from dairy farmers we work with in the North Coast,” said Frances Tjarnstrom, Dairy Project Coordinator with the Humboldt County Resource Conservation District. “Turning manure into compost is a win-win for farmers and the environment.”
It may not be possible to factor in the costs of competing with meat-free burgers and rebates for methane gas production, but it is possible to get some idea of how much it costs and the returns of a beef cattle operations from a UC Davis report.
Among California’s agricultural commodities, cattle rank fifth in revenue, and the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Issues Center’s study can help ranchers figure out how much money they can make or lose depending on their business plans.
Yolo County’s cattle and calves production is minimal compared to other places in California and the nation as a whole. In 2017, according to the Yolo County Crop Report, cattle production ranked No. 10 on the top 20 commodities list, generating $15.7 million. That compared to 2016 when it brought in $15.73 million and $20.6 million in 2015.
Almonds were Yolo County’s top crop, earning $115 million in 2017.
“Ranchers can use UC beef-cattle cost studies to guide their production decisions, estimate their own potential revenue, prepare budgets and evaluate production loans,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources adviser for Fresno and Madera counties.
The study estimates costs and returns of a representative owner-operated beef cattle operation located on rangeland in the Central San Joaquin Valley and foothills of Madera and Fresno counties. The study describes a 200-head cow-calf operation and includes pasture costs on the basis of the rental per animal unit month.
The analysis is based on a hypothetical cow-calf operation, where the cattle producer both owns and leases rangeland. The “typical” ranch in the Central San Joaquin Valley is an owner-operated cow-calf operation, often relying on multiple private leases. The operations described represent production practices and materials considered typical of a well-managed ranch in the region.
Input and reviews were provided by ranch operators, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisers and other agricultural associates.
The study describes in detail the assumptions used to identify current costs for the cow-calf herd, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. The cost calculations in this study are based on economic principles that include all cash costs and overhead costs...