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Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

October 23, 2013

Dr. Tom Troxel                                                                              Dr. Michael L. Looper

Stakeholders provide Department of Animal Science feedback

Over the summer, the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas administered a survey in order to judge the perceived value of teaching, research and extension services to the Department’s stakeholders. The survey was emailed to 3,781 stakeholders using SurveyMonkey®. Based on their relationship to the Department, they were asked to choose and rate services offered within the three categories of teaching, research and extension. Questions consisted of a rating scale from 1 (not valuable at all) to 4 (Extremely valuable) and included a ‘not applicable’ option.

The overall response rate was 8.5% or 323 respondents. Participants categorized themselves as livestock producers (47.3%), current or former students in the department (35.4%), hay or forage producers (27.6%), extension personnel (16.3%), allied industry personnel (6.9%) and other government agency personnel (5.0%).

Results identified programs/services that have value as well as programs/services that have minimal exposure to stakeholders.  These data will be used as background information for a departmental review and will be presented at the American Society of Animal Science Southern Section Conference in February, 2014. The summarized results are included below.

Teaching

Roughly half of the respondents said they were current or former students at the U of A (not necessarily Animal Science majors) and of those, roughly 81% indicated they were alumni. The majority of current/former students (66.7%) said their major was through the Department of Animal Science. The vast majority of respondents rated the following teaching experiences, resources and activities either extremely valuable or valuable; access to and availability of professors, atmosphere of Department, hands-on experiences, scholarships, coursework, classroom instruction, advising, classrooms and facilities, student clubs and internships.

Stakeholders responding to the survey had minimal knowledge about international experiences, social media (Facebook, Twitter), and undergraduate research.

Research

Research programs or resources rated either extremely valuable or valuable by stakeholders were beef cattle health, beef cattle nutrition, parasitology, forages, and beef cattle reproduction. Similarly, extension personnel surveyed rated beef cattle nutrition, health, reproduction, forages, parasitology and forage research programs/resources as extremely valuable and valuable.

Meats and swine management/nutrition were rated valuable and extremely valuable by the majority of stakeholders.  Stakeholders responding to the survey reported minimal knowledge about swine management/nutrition, beef cattle genetics/genomics and meats research programs offered by the Department.

Results identified research programs and resources that have value, as well as programs that have minimal exposure to stakeholders.

Extension

The programs or services rated either extremely valuable or valuable by stakeholders were factsheets, forage management programs, livestock market news, beef/forage demonstrations, electronic newsletters, beef cattle management programs, county programs and field days, 4-H livestock programs and experiment station field days. The programs or services rated either extremely valuable or valuable by extension personnel were livestock market news, regional beef cattle conferences, sheep and goat programs, grassland evaluation program, electronic newsletters, the 300 day grazing program, and videos/podcasts.

Extension personnel also were asked to rate additional activities and services that involved faculty in the animal science department. The extension personnel rated availability of Department of Animal Science extension faculty for county programs, Animal Science in-service trainings, ease of access to and response from Department of Animal Science extension faculty, county agent/Animal Science advisory committee, and Animal Science webinar meetings either extremely valuable or valuable.

Staggering Efficiency Gains for both Beef and Pork

The U.S. beef industry experienced incredible production efficiency gains over time. One of the simplest ways to put into context these efficiency gains is to look at the amount of beef produced per cow. In 2012, the U. S. produced 617 pounds of beef per cow, which is a 50% increase since 1975 when production was 410 pounds of beef per cow. One of the biggest drivers of the increased production is simply due to larger weights – not only are cattle bigger today but they are also produced a higher percentage of salable product (higher dressing percentage).

The amount of pork produced per sow increased an amazing 154% since 1975 – from 1,493 lbs. per sow per year to 3,799 lbs. per sow per year in 2012. Obviously one of the biggest differences between cattle and hog production is that not only have hog carcass weights increased but the number of pigs per litter has also increased significantly over time. Pigs per litter averaged about 7 animals in 1975 and today sows average about 10 pigs per litter, a 42% increase. At the same time, hog carcass weights have increased 25% since 1975 to 2012, from 165 lbs. to 205 lbs.

The bottom line is that whether you look at beef or pork production efficiency gains over a long period of time, the net result is that consumer are able to enjoy both sources of protein at much lower prices than they would otherwise be without the production efficiency gains (Source: CattleFax).

Land Values Higher

According to a recent report from USDA, January 1, 2013 AG land values surged higher on record corn prices. Average cropland values topped $4,000/acre, up 13% over the prior year.  Pasture values also increased, up to $1,200/acre, a 4.3% annual increase. Average farm real estate values reached $2,900/acres, up 9.4%. The largest land price hikes occurred in the oil/gas regions of the Northern Plains and Southern Plains, as well as the Corn Belt.

Managing an operation from a business perspective requires consideration of land value appreciation in addition to operating returns. While land appreciation is not cash in hand, it builds wealth and expands bank borrowing capacity. However, “past performance is not indicative of future behavior”. With deferred corn contracts now below $4.70/bushel, we will likely see cropland values lose some of their steam (Source: CattleFax).

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