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Surplus Could Lower Beef Prices, Leave Nevada Ranchers Stewing

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Nevada’s ranchers — and the rest of the nation’s cattle industry — face a beef glut and soft prices amid an uncertain export environment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there is a record 2.5 billion pounds of beef, pork and poultry in frozen storage around the country. That comes at a time when American food products are seen as potential targets of retaliatory tariffs during the ongoing series of international trade disputes.

Sam Mori, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, told State of Nevada the surplus stems more from years of strong production by ranchers than retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. beef.

“This business is like this by nature,” said Mori, who ranches north of Elko. “This is the fifth of what we call the ‘cattle cycle’ in my lifetime, and you can expect these kinds of things to happen.”

Whatever the cause of the oversupply, Mori says barbecue fans have reason to celebrate, with meat prices likely to fall or stay flat.

“Inventory right now indicates that you should expect a good beef-buying experience. Let me put it that way,” he said.

He said that if they're able to develop an export market they'll be able to absorb the extra inventory of surplus meat around the country.

Mori also blamed the severity of this year’s Western wildfires — which have scorched nearly 6 million acres —  in part on grazing restrictions that allowed underbrush to accumulate and add fuel to the blazes.

“When we moved the cattle out, there was too much fuel left behind and therefore we ended up with these catastrophic wildfires,” he said. “And what we’re seeing, as a trend now, we’re seeing more fire frequency and larger fire size.”

He said allowing more grazing in rangelands for longer periods of times will mean smaller fires and fewer of them.

Nationally, Nevada ranks 37th among the states in the number of cattle, with nearly 500,000 head as of early this year. The livestock industry contributes about a half-billion dollars a year to the Nevada economy, according to state figures, and employs about 4,000.

Mori said overall the industry is optimistic that the bottom side of the production cycle won't be as bad as years past. And they're optimistic that the rollback of certain regulations will help. 

Sam Mori, President of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.