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Farm News & Views for the week of December 25, 2023

The drought that affected much of the country in 2023 is still impacting the beef cattle herd, according to Derrell Peel, Livestock Marketing Specialist at Oklahoma State University. He points out that as 2023 began, the January 1 inventory data showed that the number of beef heifers calving was down over 5 percent, and that was the lowest level since 2011. But cow-calf producers have been slow to rebuild the nation's beef cow herd, and even continue culling their cows because of the persistent drought in the high plains and southwest U.S. that has reduced grass and forage production and caused the price of hay and other feeds to increase considerably over the past couple of year. All of these factors suggest that the U.S. beef cattle may be just over 28 million head, the smallest its been since 1961.

The U.S. House recently passed a bill that will allow whole, reduced fat and other milk varieties back into school cafeterias. The legislation, called the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act 2023, reverses a 13-year-old ban that permitting only low-fat milk to be served in schools. The Dairy Farmers of America organization pointed out that legislation agrees with scientific research that demonstrates the benefits of real dairy at all fat levels. The ban on whole milk being served in school lunches was implemented over a decade ago because of the belief that higher fat concentrations in whole and reduced fat milk led to obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease in children. But according to the Dairy Farmers of America, recent research by the National Library of Medicine indicated that whole milk lowered the chances of obesity in over 7,000 children by 18%, while other research found that whole milk promotes the absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins such as calcium and vitamin D. Also on the health front, a team of scientists at Kansas State University were able to to reduce the toxicity of gluten in wheat for people who have celiac disease, through the use of CRISPR gene editing technology. The edited wheat lines produced gluten molecules that individuals with celiac disease had reduced immune response to the gluten in this wheat.

According to a report by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, the average age of farmworkers in the Great Plains and upper Midwest is rising at a much faster rate than in the rest of the country. The report also pointed out that most of the farmworkers in the Minneapolis district, which stretches from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Montana, were born in the United States, and according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the median age of agricultural workers in district states rose from 51 in 2012 to 56 in 2021, and this rise in age was much faster than in the rest of the country, where the median age increased from 47 to 48 within the same time period. Data also indicates that there are more farmworkers over the age of 55 than a decade ago and fewer workers in the 45 to 54 age group. A survey by the Minneapolis Fed found that 63 percent of agricultural bankers stated that labor availability was a serious challenge, and farmers and ranchers are finding that it is increasingly difficult to find the labor needed for them to operate.

I hope this holiday season gives you many reasons to smile!

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.