The beef cow population in the United States is expected to grow by over three million head in the next three to five years. The economic signals for building/rebuilding the herd are clear, and in the next four to six years, the location of the U.S. cow herd is going to look considerably different than it did before the 2011 drought, according to a new report from the Rabobank Food & Agribusiness (FAR) Research and Advisory group.
 
The report, “Beef Cow Repopulation: The Case for Diversification,” is co-authored by Senior Rabobank FAR analysts Sterling Liddell and Don Close, and builds on research released in February 2015. It finds the geographic distribution of the U.S. cow-calf herd in the next four to six years will be more concentrated—shifting away from a dispersed population to one that is in areas not typically associated with heavy cow-calf production. This shift will create opportunity for new winners to emerge, and will challenge historical models of calf production, feeder acquisition, and crop-producing businesses.
 
“The initial growth phase will be relatively quick, and will flatten out,” says report co-author and Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group Senior Analyst Don Close. “We are going to see the process happen in two phases and in different geographies than we would have a few years ago. The excess capacity in the southwest and high plains will fill out first. Once that area has repopulated, rebuilding will occur in the central U.S. – mainly the Dakotas and into the Corn Belt.”
 
“The combination of the repopulation in areas of the Southwest and High Plains to conventional levels, plus the addition of confined and semi-confined cow-calf units in the row crop producing regions of the central U.S. will lead to unified, central states cowherd,” says Close.
 
Report co-author and Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group Senior Analyst Sterling Liddell believes the addition of the Corn Belt states and Dakotas to the conventional cow-calf areas will bring the U.S. cowherd back to pre-drought levels.
 
“Once this repopulation is completed, the beef cow herd will have returned to near 2011 levels,” says Liddell. “Although it will depend on factors such as exports and weather, I expect a total of 3.5 to 4 million head more than the 2014 low of 29 million beef cows. Of that total, 1.7 million head will come from newly developed capacity in the central U.S. – areas typically focused on row crop production.”