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Beef: Keeping Main Street hopping

POSTED June 8, 2018 1:14 p.m.

It’s 1980, and you and your friends are cruising main in your ’69 Camaro, or maybe it was your ’70 Mustang, many miles were put on your car on those Friday and Saturday nights. Now, not all of us are old enough to remember the glory days of dragging main, but even still today if you cruise down Main Street in a small town, on a Friday or Saturday night, you are likely to drive past somebody else who is doing the same thing. The act of dragging main is almost symbolic to small rural communities.
Another thing symbolic to many small towns, especially in the state of Kansas, is the production of beef. Kansas ranks third among the states in cattle inventory at 6.4 million head, according to USDA statistics. If it weren’t for cattle production, many Main Streets would be empty or non-existent on Friday and Saturday nights.
As of Jan. 1, 2018, the U.S. had a total of 94.4 million head of cattle and calves, according to the USDA. This ranks the U.S. fourth behind the countries of India, Brazil, and China. However, the United States leads the world in the amount of cattle that are on feed with about 14 million head. This led to 2.8 billion pounds of beef being exported in 2017 and shows that while we might not have the most cattle, we are much more efficient.
Exporting 2.8 billion pounds of beef led to almost $7.27 billion coming back to the United States through beef exports, according to Rob Cook at Beef2Live website. I may not be an economics expert but that seems to be a fair amount of money that was produced by the hard working people of the U.S. cattle business, with many of them in Kansas.
Kansas’ 6.4 million cattle is over twice as many as people that live in the state (2.9 million, Kansas Ag Statistics). Kansas is known for producing more wheat and milo than any other states, but according to Kansas Ag Statistics, cattle generated $7.8 billion in cash receipts in 2016. That was 56.8 percent of the total Kansas agriculture cash receipts. So while we did not finish atop the list in beef production like we do in wheat and milo, our 5.4 billion pounds of wholesome, healthy red meat production is nothing to be ashamed of.
Beef production of 5.4 billion pounds takes a fair amount of labor to produce. This is why beef production has such a positive impact on the Kansas economy. The Kansas Department of Labor reports that the industry of meat packing and meat products manufacturing provide employment for 18,700 people in the state. Kansas companies that produce, process, distribute, and sell meat products employ almost 20,000 people and generate an additional 50,000 jobs in supplier industries according to the American Meat Institute. They also report that the meat industry was responsible for $12.9 billion in economic activity. That’s incredible to look at when you see that those cattle all started their life on one of the 27,600 farms with cattle on them in the state.
If you take this down to the county level, you truly do see how important the cattle industry is on rural economies.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture reports that in 2017, cattle production employed 600 people in Barton County. These 600 people produced $184,228,280 worth of beef. That means that 600 people had to have a place to live. More than likely, a large percentage of them either raised a family or are raising a family in Barton County right now. These families shop at the grocery store, buy cars at the local dealer, and visit the doctor when one of the kids is ill. They send their kids to school, and the kids grow up and go through high school. Many of them will learn to drive out on the country roads outside of town and possibly buy their first car from somebody in town.
Once they are finally able to drive, they may even make a few laps up and down Main Street with their friends on Friday night after the game. Without the cattle industry, many of our main streets wouldn’t be a Main attraction anymore.

Jared Oelke, a 2014 Ellinwood High School graduate, graduated this spring with a degree in agriculture (animal science) from Fort Hays State University. He is the son of Steve and Amy Oelke, Ellinwood. This essay on a topic in agriculture was researched and written as part of a project. The project director is Dr. Brittany Howell, associate professor of agriculture, bjhowell@fhsu.edu, 785-628-4015.

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