Missouri's climate, soil types, terrain and abundance of water sources are a natural for cattle production.
Approximately 55 percent of Missouri's 108,000 farms raise cattle. The average herd size in Missouri is 34 cows. Their calves are sold shortly after weaning at 550 to 600 pounds. Thus the designation of Missouri as a "cow/calf" state.
Don't let this small average herd size lull you into complacency about the size and importance of Missouri's cow herd. Missouri ranks third nationally in beef cow numbers, topped only by Texas and Oklahoma.
Missouri's cattle operations play an important role in the economic well being of Main Street rural Missouri and are a major contributor to the tax base and infrastructure of many counties and communities.
Annual sales of cattle and calves generate around $1.4 billion, or approximately 19 percent, of the state's total farm cash receipts. As farmers and ranchers spend this revenue back in their communities on farm inputs, supplies and family living, more than $2.8 billion dollars worth of direct economic activity is created in the state.
This activity is further enhanced by the standard multiplier/ripple effect of these dollars continuing to turn within a community.
Farmers and ranchers have always been and continue to be good environmental stewards of the natural resources at their disposal, and the cow plays a critical role in this process.
Because the cow has a ruminant digestive system, it is able to convert grasses and forages -- grown on land that cannot sustainably grow corn, soybeans and wheat -- into a value-added consumer product: beef. If it were not for this special ability of the cow, many large areas of land across Missouri would not contribute to the prosperity of our state. Missouri's cattle industry truly is a stimulus package for rural economic development.
Cattlemen pride themselves in giving their animals the best care possible. They toil long hours all year long growing, processing and feeding grass, hay, silage and other feedstuffs for their cattle, making sure they have the proper nutrition needed for their age and condition.
Veterinarian care is provided on an individual basis when needed and also for assisting in whole herd health programs.
Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals.
During calving season they constantly observe their cows, ready to assist if a problem develops while a calf is being born. At weaning time, calves are given extra care by proving a special diet and a series of immunizations to better assist the animals in transitioning to the next phase of their lives.
It is in the farmer's best interest to provide the finest care possible for their animals, and they do so because it is the right thing to do.
Because of farmers' commitment to using best management production practices in their operations, the beef they produce contributes to one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world.
Today, one U.S. farmers feeds 158 people here and abroad. U.S. farmers also provide Americans with the most affordable food supplies. On average, we spend close to 10 percent of our income on food, while other nations spend up to 50 percent and higher.
So the next time you enjoy that reasonably priced steak, hamburger or other beef product, remember the hard-working farmer whose efforts contribute to the economic engine of their community and the state, who give the best care possible for their animals and who allow you not to worry where your next meal is going to come from, which in turn gives you the privilege to pursue other career opportunities.
Kelly Smith is director of marketing and commodities for the Missouri Farm Bureau.