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9/5/2011 9:59:00 PM
Faces of the Food: Cattle 101 - Head 'em up, move 'em out
Mark Duncan/The Daily Courier
“Anyplace you go in Arizona, you’re looking at somebody’s ranch,” says Arizona Cattle Growers Association President Andy Groseta. This herd is foraging near the Granite Dells in Prescott.
Mark Duncan/The Daily Courier
“Anyplace you go in Arizona, you’re looking at somebody’s ranch,” says Arizona Cattle Growers Association President Andy Groseta. This herd is foraging near the Granite Dells in Prescott.
Mark Duncan
City Editor

YAVAPAI COUNTY - There's cows on the range. And then there's steaks and burgers in the supermarket. But how do they get from here to there and back again?

Cattle ranching 101, according to Andy Groseta, dictates that you finish the cattle where the feed grows. And that is why Yavapai County ranchers have run cow and calf operations for generations, through good times and bad, strong markets and soft. Most of Yavapai County's cattle are sold at between 800 pounds and 1,000 pounds, to operators who ship them to feedlots in Texas, Kansas or Oklahoma, or to grass ranges in Colorado. Depending on current pricing and the need for a payday, some will hold their beef over for the winter and sell them as yearlings.

Groseta should know. He's the president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and his family has been on the W-Dart Ranch outside Cottonwood for nearly 90 years, overseeing the repeating cycle of calving in the spring, feeding all summer, weaning and selling in the fall, the cornerstones of the business.

With current beef prices at near-record highs, the industry is as sure an example as any of producing true value directly from the earth.

"That cow is one of the only things out there that can turn radiant energy into something you and I can eat," Groseta said.

And it takes a lot of that radiant energy to bring a cow to market: an average of 70 grazing acres to sustain a cow for a year and six pounds of feed - usually corn - for every pound of growth once the animal makes it to the feedlot.

"Cattle prices now are as high as I've seen them in my lifetime," Groseta said. "But they need to keep going up so we can continue into the next generation."

Some folks say that, especially with the ever-rising price of fuel, the traditional cow/calf method is becoming impractical, and that economies will soon dictate a change in the practice.

But the infrastructure in the county just doesn't exist to finish all the county's cattle locally, according to Yavapai County Farm Bureau President (and the new operator of the former Young's Farm in Dewey) Gary Mortimer.

"It makes more sense to send the cattle to the feed," Mortimer said, adding that he agrees in the theory of keeping local food local, but for a couple of fundamental problems. "The bottleneck in that whole situation is the availability of processing and distribution," he said. "I don't know if it's economically viable to create those operations here."

And while the local food trend is promising, the principles are different.

"If you're selling 10 packages of beef to a customer, that's a nice customer to have, but we're selling semi loads of cattle," Mortimer said. "If you're a real small operation, it's viable, but at the scale we're working with you have to sell semi loads, not ice chest loads."

Perkinsville Meats in Chino Valley is the area's largest meat processor. Starting out as a specialty operation catering to hunters, the business has grown considerably over the past few years as some ranchers have chosen to eschew the feedlot option in favor of marketing their grass-fed beef locally.

Arizona Department of Agriculture inspectors come to the plant weekly to inspect the beef before and during the slaughtering process. USDA inspection is not required as long as the finished product does not cross state lines, and Brian Hamilton, the general manager, doesn't think the company is prepared to expand to the point it could process "semi loads" of meat, as opposed to the 750 or so cattle the plant processes per year.

"We try to keep it where it is right now," Hamilton said. "We've been approached by folks, but we're as big as we want to get."

And while beef prices are higher than ever, herd sizes in the county, according to Groseta, are smaller than they've been since the 1950s. The USDA Agricultural Census, taken every five years, showed the county's cattle population at 46,980 in 2007, up from 37,508 in the drought year of 2002 but down from a high of 68,257 in 1997.

That shrinking population, according to cattle broker Clay Parsons of the Marana Stockyards and Livestock Auction, is part of the reason prices are trending higher, leading to higher prices in the grocery store.

"The supply is less," Parsons said. "It goes down considerably every year as they take ranchland and put it into houses."

Another reason for escalating prices is the popularity of American beef overseas, particularly in Asia and the Orient.

"We're shipping 10 percent of the cattle produced in this country overseas," said Groseta, who believes that particular aspect of the business adds about $200 per head to the price on the hoof and creates correspondingly higher prices for the end consumer.

Public grazing

Even though cattle ranching is probably the most iconic industry of the West, the use of public lands to perpetuate the industry is a near-constant source of controversy. Organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Forest Guardians have blamed the cattle industry for endangering species such as the desert tortoise and the southwestern flycatcher, and a lawsuit has been in the federal court system for years over what grazing opponents call the unrealistic low price of grazing leases.

About three-quarters of Yavapai County's 4 million acres of public land is tied up in agricultural leases. Grazing permits on U.S. Forest Service land account for about 1.2 million acres, and about 1.3 million acres of state land is committed to raising livestock, primarily beef. Bureau of Land Management leases make up the remainder, but the exact amount is indeterminate because the BLM doesn't keep county-based statistics.

State land goes for $2.40 per AUM (agricultural unit per month) and applies to permitted animals older than six months.

Federal land, though, costs just $1.35 per month, a figure that has grazing opponents enraged, as it is the minimum required under the BLM statutes and has remained mostly the same since the 1960s.

"The federal fee is unreasonably low," said Jay Lininger of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It is a form of subsidy."

The environmental group contends that cattle grazing in the West is an unsound proposition, both from an economic and environmental viewpoint.

Along with the fee being too low - they maintain that it would have to be 10 times higher just to pay the administrative costs of the activity - a new suit filed Aug. 25 alleges that the Forest Service violated its own policies by approving grazing leases in several national forests, including Prescott, Coconino and Kaibab, without conducting in-depth environmental reviews.

All in all, Lininger said, it's just bad business.

"I don't think Americans are getting a fair return for allowing private ranching on our national forest lands," he said, adding that, if leases cost what he believes they should, "I don't think the market would support ranching in the Western states."

Groseta doesn't buy the argument that grazing is bad for the land, but argues that the ranchers are the people out on the range, fixing fences, keeping water in place for wildlife as well as for their herds, and generally managing the land as well as can be done.

"I'm pleased that they're concerned for the environment, but they're not as concerned as we are," Groseta said. "We spend a lot of money out of our own pockets on federal land, and I know for sure that it wouldn't be in my best interest to overgraze it and run this ranch into the ground.

"I know that ranchers are the true stewards of the land."

And Gary Halford of the Flowerpot Ranch maybe puts it more simply, thinking about the wide-open spaces on which he plies his trade.

"I don't know what you're going to do with this land," he said, "if you don't raise cattle on it."

Related Stories:
• Faces of the Food: Old, new ways put meat on the table
• Faces of the Food: Ranchers, farmers cover assets for future generations
• Faces of the Food: Local food gains ground as freshness takes top priority

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: George Seaman

@ "Cow Boy": Isn't this fun! I may have been making some serious assumptions about your political views? I assumed you were taking a fiscally conservative position, but your statement about being so willing to take money that the feds are throwing away makes it clear I was mistaken. You are taking the very weird position that it is ok to use taxpayer money to prop up one industry while at the same time trying to lay bame on the others. Yes, my hours are being cut because of conservative budget cuts, I already admitted that and have clearly said I am willing to do this for the health of the economy. My point is that every industry ought to be willing to do the same, you obviously disagree with that position because you believe ag has no responsibility in the debt issues, otherwise it would seem you would be willing to take a little bit less from the taxpayers (no matter how much was being offered). Thanks for clarifying the Cattle Growers position on this, it's bad socialism when it benefits the sick and the poor and good socialsm when it benefits your own personal interests. BZZZZZZ. For a fun afternoon lunch let's get together and talk about this, call me at 928-830-1318

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: Where is the Tea Party??

We need to shut down the big government subsidies (the SOCIALISM) that puts money in the pockets of ranchers and farmers!!!

If you can't make money without a hand-out from the government get another job!!!

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: He said it

""I know that ranchers are the true stewards of the land."

Steward of land and profitable ranch can and often are mutually exclusive.

You can't fool me...

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: Cow Boy

George, your like a fly at the dinner table, you just wont go away........ So lets see, is not your paycheck subsidised by the taxpayers? I think here in AZ they call it ACCHS?.. And is not the real reason they have cut your hours at work because they have cut the "subsidies" to the taxpayer funded heathcare?...... Nothing "sticks in my craw" If the feds want to throw money away, I'll hold out my sack.

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: George Seaman

And if one steak had the same value as a person's health it would also cost a whole lot more...wouldn't it? It would be easier to just admit it, publicly subsidized industries are not capitalism, they are socialism, they are entitlement programs. It sort of sticks in your craw doesn't it?

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: open book

Dear Cow Boy, I'm sorry that you cannot afford to go to the doctor. There are very many people who cannot afford a doctor. That, apparently, in our society is not a "right." Embarrassing for a country as wealthy as ours. I encourage you to do something to change that situation.

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2011
Article comment by: Cow Boy

George: As it stands, you can afford a steak, and I can not afford to go to the doctor.

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: George Seaman

@Cow Boy: I enjoy the discussion, but you are making some serious assumptions about my political beliefs here. I will say it again, I do not oppose subsidies to the ranching industry. I also do not oppose subsidies to other idustries, but I do not pretend that these situations constitute a "free market enterprise", they are socialized...pure and simple.

What I DO oppose is the idea that it is ok to cut subsidies to the poor and middle class by an across the board percentage and then not realize that in order to have balance in the budget choices we must also cut subsidies to these other industries (and the uber-wealthy) by a similar margin. It is called fairness. If it is ok to cut welfare, or to cut social security, or medicare, or education (which are ALL subsidies to people in need) then it should also be ok to cut subsidies to agriculture, the oil industry, and all of the other ones you mention by an equal percentage. THAT would balance the budget. I am suggesting that you step up to the plate and take an equal hit with all of the rest of us. And I did offer you a way to use the land to do all of the things you suggest...keep it wild, in essence raise wildlife, then charge for it.

And as we speak about it, I have a little bit of dirt in the county, and it is over run and over grazed by ranchers who do not own the land and could care less what their cattle do to it (I believe they live in Las Vegas) is called open range laws. And if I want to have control over not just the grass but the entire ecosystem which I own, I must spend thousands of dollars to fence your cattle off of my land. Please do not paint me with the "anti-ranching brush", I willingly give plenty of my hard earned money to help support it, now how about a similar attitude from you towards my industry...I have been a Registered Nurse for 35 years, and my income and hours are being reduced by annual "conservative" budget cuts but I do not see similar cuts to your industry. I'm just talking about fairness here. And by the way, budget cuts to my industry cost not only jobs, they often cost the lives of people.

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: Cow Boy

Yes George I read your original, in your defence, you sort of call a man a SOB, then put one of those LOL's after it thinking that justifies your wish to publicly persecute an entire industry. You should call out all the others so we wont think you have a personal adjenda. George even the even computer connection you send your nastygrams on was subsidised by the taxpayers, but do you squeel? ....One other question, with all the billions of acres of federal lands that are being leased by the cattle industry, does any one have a better use for this land? Is there any use that would have less of an impact on our land that will pay the taxpayer a revenue, feed our nation and improve wildlife habitat and recreation? Do you seriously think that the margins are so wide that we can afford additional costs? Do you have any idea what goes on here? Walmart sets the price I will get for my cattle, did you realize that? If I dissagree with Walmart, what option do I have? I will sit on my cattle and they will import. McDonalds now serves African beef, and the Sierra club, saviors of the ecosystem has now decided that cattle grazing is the best use with the least impact for their vast holdings of land....And incedently this industry was doing just fine, as were most others before the feds. decided to "help" us, personally I would prefer the government get their nose out of buisness and let us get on with. Its the regulations that stifle progress not the subsidy. It is reported that big buisness will spend 60k to employee one 45k per year worker because of the "help" of our government.

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: Cindy Coping

The lower the government keeps costs for the farmers and rancher who feed us, the more people get to eat. Ranchers are not price makers, the market sets the price and ranchers take what they can get. The market is governed by supply and demand. The average profit in ranching as in all commodity markets, is zero. All costs and subsidies met by ranchers are passed to YOU the consumer.

That's why America is so prosperous because our system ensures our basic needs are usually met. Americans pay about ten percent of our income on food. That's the lowest in the world. Europeans pay about 25% of their income for food.

The Center for Biological Diversity whines perpetually about rancher "subsidies." Ranchers feed us, steward the land at their own expense, create jobs and pay taxes at the end of the day. Those taxes go to subsidize lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, who does not pay taxes. The CBD paid no taxes even on the contributions that they had to spend to pay punitive damages for malicious libel against a conservationist rancher. Now they pay no taxes on the extra contributions that they must spend for higher liability insurance rates. The taxpayers have, by force of federal law, subsidized the CBD to the tune of millions of dollars to bring joblessness pain and misery to a lot of American citizens and force the government to manage land in a manner that made millions of acres of endangered species habitat burn to the ground. So WHO is unfairly subsidized?

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: George Seaman

@"Cow Boy": I assume you missed the part where I say that I support the need to subsidize ranching? I most definitely WANT to have government support this industry! What bothers me is when the recipients of this government support don't even acknowledge that if it weren't for the rest of the taxpayers out here, this industry would simply fail. I would like ranchers to publicly acknowledge that they are socialized right along with all of the other industries that most ranchers so vocally want to cut budgets for such as education and health care. You are right, there are many subsidies of many many industries, but that fact does not make for a "free market" in any sense of the word. Please note that I am not ranting against ranchers, I am just saying that socialized industry is socialized industry, and it doesn't matter if it is done on a ranch or in a hospital. We need these supports and we all depend upon them...even ranchers. And public acknowledgement of that fact might go a long way toward reducing much of the inflamatory rhetoric we here in rural AZ.

And as for "crapping in my own lunch box", I would rather eat elk or deer meat, and reducing the number of cattle on the range would allow for an increase in my preferred diet and activity. But I still prefer to forego my preferences to help keep ranches in business. Does that sound like someone who is against ranching?

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: open book

Fixing fences and keeping water in place for wildlife sounds romantic, but actually do not make any sense together. If the fence is fixed the wildlife cannot get to the water.

Mike, please try to meet some folks you regard as "tree-huggers" in order to find some mutually beneficial ideas. Just as taxpayer subsidized grazing on the forest is outdated, "tree-hugger" is a pejorative word that is also passe.

Sometimes an industry is forced to make big changes. This might be the time for the beef industry. In these harsh economic times federal land subdized grazing may be going the way of the buggy-whip. Fortunately people can be very pro-active and find win-win solutions if they are committed to such.

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Article comment by: Paul Butler

What a bargin the public is getting..........they should actually be paying ranchers for the great job they do in keeping the land productive.....rather than the other way around.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Michael Schumacher

Hey to my land to did you know that if you had gone to any of the travel manengemet meetings for the public land use if your camping more than 30 feet off of what roads that are left open in the kaibab and cocanino you can be find up to $5000.00 and six months in jail. So please don,t slam the ranchers, tree huggers do not what out there period!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: My Land Too

Talking about AZ's ranching history sounds very romantic. However, this model of land use is about 100 years out of date. Why do so many ranches in the area now charge "Trespass Fees" to hunters? Others require you to hire a specific hunting guide to come on their land. Lets not forget the public and private land is checker-boarded in this state and in many cases the hunter cant get to the public land without paying the rancher a fee. If they get to use our land we should get to use theirs for hunting. Some of them even want to raise "Trophy" game on their ranches. That does not sound like the AZ I grew up in. Gee poor ranchers. How about moving to where it rains, and give us our land back.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Mike Schumacher

Can any of you tree huggers tell us one of the few places that the forest has not grown back on the big bug range alotment that has not seen cattel on it in over 20 years wich was part of the bullwaker ranch I e know as the ranch of prescott behind gateway mall.Ansew The highland center just befor lynx lake on walker road You tree huggers have kept the forest from growing back with your building that you have to maintian becacuse with out man and women nature will take back every thing!!!!!!!!! So would please stop slaming and suing the ranchers because they help the wildlife more than your lawers could ever do.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: open book

Jean, I agree. I think grassfed, organic beef (and chicken) is far superior in flavor and texture - and my conscience - than feedlot and caged meat. But the cost does indeed reduce the amount fo meat I eat - which is a healthy thing. So I see it as a win-win.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Clary Knowles

I would encourage Mr. Groseta to brush up on his history. Overgrazing our forest land over the past 150 years is one of the primary reasons our forests are in such poor health. That he "doesn't buy the argument" seems a bit self-serving. Fixing the fences does not quite make up for the damage incurred.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Cow Boy

George, your rants are amusing at best...... Try eating more beef!.... If you would please, could you stop supporting any industry that is subsidised with tax dollars. Lets start with the auto industry, energy, fuel, anything that is "green", all food even the non-meat part of ariculture is subsidised, churches, banks, medicine, healthcare, animal rescues, the survey to study the effect of alcohol on prostitutes in china.....George I think it would be much easier to define the items not subsidised by our tax dollars. You should spread the hate more uniformly, instead or ranting about grazing fees. I keep having this thought of a saying learned long, long ago, "dont crap in your own lunch box", meaning what your wishing will only increase the price of food, and shut down production so you can dine only on imported food.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Brian Boru

My compliments to Mark Duncan for a very informative article.

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: George Seaman

It wouldn't bother me very much that we subsidize this industry in numerous ways if the ranchers would at least acknowledge that they are being subsidized. This is in fact a government subsidized industry, there are many reasons that we choose to do this and it is not entirely a bad thing to do, At the same time, for rancher/developers to complain so strongly against "socialization" of other industries (such as education or health care) and not to publicly ackowledge their own dependence on government support is simply ludicrous (are you listening Sen. Pierce?). If the rates for leases haven't been increased since the '60s and the agricultural tax subsidies haven't been changed since the '80s and the real value of the land has increased astronomically, then the rest of us are payng extra to keep this industry afloat. I for one am willing to do that, but let's be fair...this is anything BUT a conservative free market industry! Let's face it, without government support this industry would certainly fail. If we could all come together and realize that the government is helping many of us in many different ways perhaps we could stop all of this stupid name calling on all sides. So a question to Mr. Groseta, can we hear you (and the Cattlegrowers Assoc) say that you appreciate what the rest of us are doing to subsidize your ranching, and to admit that while you may be "good stewards of the land" you are also dependent upon the help of the government to stay in business (I think we call that socialism)?

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Article comment by: Jean Girard

It costs a lot, lot more to buy organic, free range beef, but it is much, much better for you and the environment. Feed lots are destructive to our health and the environment, accumulating huge amounts of fertilizer and urine, which emit methane, a greater contributor to global climate change than even CO 2 Because of the unsanitary conditions these cattle endure, they are given antibiotics that pollute our waters and also develop resistant bacterias. Often, they are given growth hormones. The growing of corn to feed cattle, uses excessive amounts of oil and it's side products also contributing to global climate change.
If one cannot afford to eat free range, then it certainly would be a good idea to vastly reduce the amount of beef consumed.

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