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HomeIndustry NewsNew Census Shows Cattle and Sheep Industries Continue Steep Declines

New Census Shows Cattle and Sheep Industries Continue Steep Declines

BILLINGS, Mont., February 14, 2024 – Yesterday’s release of the 2022 Census of Agriculture by the Department of Agriculture reveals that two agricultural industries vital to the economic well-being of Rural America, particularly western Rural America, are in steep decline.

The new cattle and calves census shows America lost nearly 107,000 beef cattle farms and ranches during the past five years, representing a loss rate of over 21,000 cattle producers per year. It also shows the U.S. beef cow herd has declined another 2.5 million cows, representing an 8% reduction in the beef cow herd since 2017, and resulting in the smallest beef cow herd in decades.

As for the sheep industry, the new sheep and lambs census reveals that nearly 500 full-time sheep producers (those with a herd size of at least 100 head) have exited the industry since 2017, and the U.S. sheep inventory, at only 5.1 million head in 2022, likewise represents the smallest U.S. sheep herd in decades.

“While the U.S. experienced widespread drought beginning in mid-2020, the drought only contributed to the cattle and sheep industries’ steep decline that started four decades ago,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

Bullard said the U.S. lost nearly 558,000 beef cattle operations from 1980 until the previous 2017 census, representing a loss rate of over 15,000 producers per year. And now it’s lost nearly 665,000 through 2022.

“That means we’ve now lost well over half of all U.S. beef cattle farms and ranches in just over a generation and more than 5 of every 10 beef cattle farmers and ranchers in business in 1980 are gone today,” continued Bullard.

He said the situation in the sheep industry is worse. “We’ve now lost more than 6 of every 10 full-time sheep producers that were in business just over a generation ago.”

Bullard said these long-term losses pose a grave danger to U.S. food security. “We are fast centralizing our production supply chains for beef and lamb, making them much more vulnerable to disease, climate, and geopolitical events.

“Our members have been offering solutions to reverse these negative trajectories for decades, but so far neither Congress nor the USDA has taken any meaningful steps to address this serious problem,” he continued.

Bullard said the cattle industry needs an infusion of competitive forces that can only materialize if consumers can distinguish beef exclusively produced in the U.S. with a mandatory country of origin label. He said Congress or USDA needs to eliminate anticompetitive cattle procurement tools such as unpriced forward contracts; and that both the cattle and sheep industries need relief from unlimited imports that allow multinational meat packers to source cheaper beef and lamb from around the world that then displace domestically produced beef and lamb.

“The alarming contraction of our cattle and sheep industries are a serious threat to our nation’s food security and we’re hopeful Congress will respond with meaningful solutions in the 2024 Farm Bill,” Bullard concluded.

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