TENNESSEE'S CATTLE INDUSTRY
James B. Neel, Professor
University of Tennessee
beef cattle industry is an important part of the state's economy.
It is even more important to Tennessee's agricultural economy. Cattle
are produced in every county in Tennessee and have greater economic
importance in the Middle and East Tennessee areas than in West Tennessee.
The Tennessee beef industry is locally owned by family farmers.
According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, 97 percent
of the nation's cattle farms are family owned, and 42 percent have
been in the same family for more than 50 years.
cattle industry converts locally produced resources into dollars
that are "spent at home" and supports the growth of local
economies and jobs.
Cattle also contribute to the aesthetic environment of the "Volunteer
State" in that they help to maintain the "green
space" that makes Tennessee attractive to both residents
Following are some facts about the Tennessee beef industry that
will illustrate its importance to the Volunteer State and why it
has grown to its current level:
More Tennesseeans are involved in beef production than any
other agricultural enterprise. There are 82,000 farms in Tennessee
and beef cattle are found on 48,000 (59.0 percent) of these.
Tennessee is one of the top beef-producing states in the nation.
Tennessee ranks ninth in the nation in beef cow numbers and
fourteenth in total cattle. Tennessee exceeds all states east
of the Mississippi, except Kentucky, in numbers of cattle. Only
Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma have more cow-calf operations than
Tennessee. More than 2.3 million cattle in Tennessee are valued
at slightly more than $1.7 billion. Fifty-two percent of these
cattle, or 1.2 million, are beef cows.
Tennessee's beef cow numbers have increased 370 percent since
1955. This increase can be attributed to several factors: the
decline in dairy production; reduction in acres devoted to row
crop production; increase in pasture acreage; growth of local
manufacturing, resulting in off-farm employment opportunities;
age of the operator or farm owner; and the number of farms that
have been passed on to the succeeding generation. A large number
of the state's cattle producers now reside on this acreage and
have employment off the farm.
Sale of cattle and calves is the number one source of agricultural
income in Tennessee. The cattle industry has held this position
for a number of years. The cash receipts from the sale of cattle
and calves during 2005 totaled $500 million which was 20 percent
of the state's total agricultural income and 1.8 times greater
than the number 2 Agricultural sales. These monies stay in the
state's and local economics. National Cattlemen's Beef Association
economists report that every dollar made in cattle sales is
multiplied or turned four times. This means that the state's
cattle industry generates an additional $2.0 billion of business
activity for the state's economy. This activity also contributes
to the sales tax revenue.
Beef production in Tennessee is based on producing and marketing
feeder cattle. Feeder cattle production starts with cow-calf
operations which make up 88 percent of the state's beef operations.
The remaining 10 percent are backgrounding or stockering operations.
Tennessee annually markets more than 750,000 feeder calves to
backgrounding operations and feedlots, primarily in the Midwest
and High Plains areas of the country.
Beef production provides an opportunity for Tennessee agriculture
to secure monetary returns from several thousand acres of land
not suitable for intensive agricultural production. Beef cattle
are ruminants. They have the ability to consume materials such
as grass and hay and convert them into a much more valuable,
easier-to-market product. Approximately 85 percent of the total
feed used in the production of a slaughter beef animal comes
from forage, roughages and other by-products that are not edible
by humans or other simple-stomached livestock. About five million
acres, or 40 percent, of the state's agricultural land is pasture.
Pasture is grown on areas that would otherwise provide little
opportunity for agricultural revenue.
Beef cattle farms contribute to the state's natural beauty.
The pasture that cattle graze results in a great deal of "green
space" for both tourists and residents to enjoy. The pastures
also aid in reducing soil erosion and benefit and encourage
development of wildlife.
Beef cattle fit well with, and complement other agricultural
enterprises. As a result, the sale of cattle is not the major
source of income for a large percentage of Tennessee farms.
A recent survey revealed that tobacco, row crops, other livestock
enterprises and miscellaneous agricultural enterprises were
also sources of financial support for approximately 60 percent
of Tennessee cattle producers.
A large percentage of beef cattle are owned by producers with
off-farm employment. Data collected in the 1996 beef survey
indicated that 48.7 percent of beef producers are employed off
the farm. Beef cattle production requires less labor and smaller
investments in equipment and facilities than do other agricultural
enterprises. This makes it attractive to land owners who have
off-farm employment. Tennessee's average farm size, 138 acres
and the 293-cow average size herd also facilitate off-farm employment.
Fifteen purebred cattle breed associations are leaders in breeding
and marketing seedstock. These purebred breeders annually provide
the Tennessee beef industry more than 14,000 bulls which annually
provide half the genetic makeup of the state's calf crop.
Thrity-eight weekly livestock auction markets allow producers
the opportunity to market cattle year-round. In addition, several
local feeder cattle marketing associations and marketing alliances
carry out in-barn cooperative feeder calf sales, tele-auctions,
video and board sales. Cattle grading and marketing assistance
are provided by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
The beef industry is well served and represented by the Tennessee
Cattlemen's Association, Tennessee Beef Cattle Improvement Association,
Tennessee Beef Industry Council and the Tennessee Farm Bureau
Federation. Feed, health products, equipment, veterinary services
and production inputs are accessible in all areas of the state.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture aids in marketing, health,
and regulatory programs. Educational and research support are
provided by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension
Service, Agricultural Experiment Station and College of Veterinary
Medicine of the University of Tennessee.
Beef cattle fits well with the life style. People enjoy working
with beef cattle and it fits well with the rural life style
people are seeking.
beef industry is the most important agricultural enterprise in the
state. More people are involved than in any other agricultural enterprise
and it is the greatest source of agricultural income. The Tennessee
beef industry will continue to grow. Beef cow numbers will remain
at 1.0 to 1.2 million and the backgrounding of feeder calves is
expected to increase. The greatest opportunity for increased income
to Tennessee agriculture is in beef production. Because of its climate,
topography and other changes in agriculture, Tennessee will continue
to produce acreage of pasture and forage, contributing to beef cattle
continuing as the agricultural enterprise of choice.
courtesy of USDA NRCS.