As the summer here at the Noble Research Institute is winding down, I have been putting together my presentation on the summer's activities. One day I sat down and tried to make a list of all the things that I have done as a Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture. I lost count somewhere in the fifties, but I'm sure the actual number of events was much higher. These activities have included measuring feral hogs, grafting pecan trees and everything in between. There has certainly been no lack of variety.
If there is one thing that I have focused on more than any other, it has probably been stocker cattle. Last week I continued my stocker education by taking a trip with Bryan Nichols, livestock consultant, to the Cattle Trails Wheat & Stocker Conference in Lawton, Oklahoma. A joint effort between Oklahoma State Extension and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, this conference focused on issues facing producers who are growing and grazing wheat. The state of Oklahoma grows somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million acres of wheat every year with roughly half of it being grazed by stocker cattle, so the issues covered were very important to Oklahoma agriculture.
As someone who follows the cattle and grain markets fairly close, I was particularly interested in the opening talk given by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist Stan Bevers. Unfortunately, his outlook wasn't particularly rosy for wheat growers or stocker operators either one. For wheat growers, Stan indicated that wheat prices could be significantly lower for 2016 harvest, possibly as low as the $4 per bushel range. Stan went on to outline a stocker budget for wheat grazing this winter. This too showed very tight margins for producers.
Other presentations of the day included a discussion of the forage production of different wheat varieties, an exploration of anti-nutritive factors in feed and water, a talk on added-value calves, and a postmortem demonstration on drug residues. From beginning to end, the conference was both engaging and informative.
I'm still a long way from being an expert on stocker cattle. After a summer full of experiences like this one, however, I know a whole lot more than I did just three months ago.
Garth Gatson is a 2015 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Vandalia, Missouri, where his family runs a diverse farming operation, including beef cattle, forage and grain crops. He is a senior at the University of Missouri where he is majoring in animal science with minors in agricultural economics and chemistry.