California's cattle and beef industry at the crossroads
Beef cattle remain one of California’s most important agricultural products, ranking fifth in 2001 at $1.35 billion in value of production, behind dairy, grapes, nursery products and lettuce. However, technological change, coupled with declining consumption of red meats during the 1970s and 1980s, triggered a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the beef-processing sector. To evaluate how such trends are affecting the industry in Calif-ornia, we undertook a survey during 2000 and 2001 and obtained responses from ranchers in 40 counties. Our results confirm that the industry appears to be at a crossroads, for a variety of reasons. Cow-calf ranching operations now predominate, and a significant percentage of cattle leave the state for feeding and slaughter. Auction yards, a principal marketing outlet for most of the survey respondents, require a large volume of activity in order to operate efficiently. As aging ranchers exit the business, this important exchange mechanism is threatened, possibly contributing to the industry’s further decline. Most ranchers reported having five or fewer potential buyers for their cattle.