Nebraska farmers and ranchers need have no fear of the stem-cell hamburger. It’s unlikely anybody will be signing “Whoopee ti yi yo, git along, little test tubes” anytime soon.

Taste tests of the stuff Dutch scientists grew in a petri dish weren’t all that delicious. One tester said the burger-shaped product, enhanced with bread crumbs, saffron and beet juice, “was like an animal-protein cake.”

While the “Frankenburger” was getting all of the attention, a less-noticed new report offers important news: Nebraska’s beef industry is well-positioned to see continued strength, thanks to a combination of factors.

In fact, the report says, if current trends keep up, in five to seven years Nebraska could surpass Texas as the No. 1 state for cattle on feed.

The beef sector in Nebraska — and much of the northern Plains and Iowa as well — is helped by basic economics, according to the report from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Production costs tend to be lower in Nebraska, the Extension analysis said, because packing plants are here in great numbers (reducing transportation costs) and producers have ready access to distillers grains byproducts from ethanol production (reducing feed expenses). The same applies in Iowa.

“This livestock/crop combination provides a unique synergistic system for Nebraska that leads to a competitive economic advantage,” the report notes.

Climate conditions also are important, as persistent Texas drought has reduced cattle numbers there. Since 2008, the annual Texas calf crop has fallen by nearly 19 percent. The troubles in the Texas cattle industry, meanwhile, heightened the attractiveness of cattle production in the northern Plains.

“Fundamentals, including the availability of feedstuffs coupled with the quality of the cattle produced in the state, create a very profitable environment for the industry,” the report says.

Nebraska stands tall in many regards when it comes to the beef sector. With 2.5 million beef cattle on feed, Nebraska is No. 2 nationally and its share of the U.S. total has increased from 17.4 percent in 2003 to 19.1 percent this year.

Nebraska is No. 1 in beef packer slaughtering capacity, with a 25 percent share of the national slaughter production.

As the report explains it, the factors that encourage stronger cattle production in Nebraska are mutually reinforcing: It helps the cattle sector to be close to so much corn and ethanol production. And the stronger the cattle sector, the more companies tend to place their packing operations close by.

The Extension analysis says packing operations are likely to become even more concentrated in Nebraska and other top states for slaughtering capacity.

This trend is positive, in turn, for Nebraska’s export capability, because processed food has long been the state’s No. 1 merchandise export. Last year processed food items accounted for almost 32 percent of Nebraska’s merchandise exports.

The trend line for Nebraska’s processed-food exports has been dramatically upward. In 2005, they totaled $798 million. By 2009, the figure was $1.48 billion. And by 2012, $2.37 billion.

None of this means that things are a breeze for Nebraska’s cattle sector. Just four years ago, cash receipts for livestock production plunged significantly. Fortunately, there’s been a rebound. In 2012, Nebraska cash receipts from the sale of cattle and calves totaled $10.38 billion, up from $8.63 billion in 2011.

Meanwhile, the threat of drought always hangs over the heads of Nebraska producers, too. Weather conditions last year were a huge challenge for the state’s cattlemen, and this year the drought unfortunately continues.

But on balance, the general prospects are encouraging. With continued hard work and acceptable weather, the cattle industry’s future in the Beef State looks bright. That’s good for the producers and for the state as a whole.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.