United States: Staggering Statistics About The Beef Industry

Last Updated: November 3 2015
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

Despite recent news about the purported link between red meat and cancer, which the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) disputes, beef cattle represent the largest agricultural sector in the country, according to Bob Weaber, PhD, the Cow-Calf Extension Specialist and faculty coordinator of Kansas State University's Purebred Unit. Dr. Weaber was a program presenter at the annual meeting of the National Animal Interest Alliance which took place this past week-end, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

Dr. Weaber described the economic value of this industry, representing 19% of agriculture in the US, with a reported $76.4 billion in sales in 2012.

Other statistics, available on the NCBA website, are equally astounding:

  • Cattle inventory (as of Jan 1, 2015): 89.9 million, up 1% from Jan. 2014.
  • Economic impact: $44 billion in farm gate receipts (USDA NASS)
  • Number of farms and ranches specializing in beef cattle: 619,172 (2012)
  • Number of cattle & calf operations: 915,000 (2012)
    • 29.7 million beef cows
    • 9.3 million milk cows
    • 5.8 million beef replacement heifers, up 4% from Jan. 2014
    • 33.9 million head calf crop (2013)
    • The average cow herd size: 40 head
  • Value of U.S. beef exports: $5.711 billion (2013), up from $3.839 billion in 2010
    • Top export markets: Japan, Canada, Mexico and South Korea
  • Top 5 states for all cattle and calves (2015): 1. Texas – 11.8 million 2. Nebraska – 6.30 million 3. Kansas – 6 million 4. California – 5.2 million 5. Oklahoma – 4.6 million
  • Top 5 states for cattle in feedlots with capacity more than 1000 head (March 2015)
    • Nebraska – 2.49 million
    • Texas – 2.45 million
    • Kansas – 2.1 million
    • Colorado – .870 million
    • Iowa – .660 million
  • Average producer age: 58.3 (USDA 2012 Ag Census)
  • U.S. beef production (commercial carcass weight) was 25.8 billion pounds.
  • The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds.
  • Average annual U.S. retail Choice beef price in 2013 was $5.29/lb.
  • U.S. commercial slaughter total was 31.9 million head

For those of you unfamiliar with this industry, have likely have not heard about the NCBA, an association that dates back to 1898. As described on their website, the association was spurred on after Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" the "harsh novel about unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants [that] prompted the federal government to pass the first Federal Meat Inspection Act."

Anyone interested in learning more about this association should read the policy concerns discussed in the 2015 Policy Book, which include the following issues:


1.1 2013 NCBA Agricultural Policy Statement

1.2 2014 Foreign Aid

1.3 2010 Firearms Regulations

1.4 2010 Entry of Young People Into Cattle Business

1.5 2013 Border Security: Theft and Health Emergency

1.6 2013 Biosecurity

1.7 2014 Beef Checkoff

1.8 2014 Mexico Border Policy

1.9 2013 Horse Harvesting and Processing

1.10 2011 Ethical and Humane Disposal of Horses

1.11 2013 Transportation

1.12 2014 Renewable Fuels

1.13 2014 Domestic Energy Policy

1.14 2014 Hydropower Support

1.15 2014 Secure Fence Act

1.16 2014 Rights of United States' Beef Producers First

1.17 2013 National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium


2.1 2011 Federal Farm Programs

2.2 2011 Crop Insurance

2.3 2011 FSA/NRCS Consolidation

2.4 2012 Sod Buster

2.5 2012 Farm Bill Policy – Sod Saver

2.6 2012 Dairy Policy

2.7 2010 Mandate Compensation

2.8 2010 Agricultural Research Funding

2.9 2012 Government Water Rights Purchase

2.10 2012 Forage Crop Storage Structures

2.11 2014 Support for USDA Rural Development


3.1 2013 Disaster Relief

3.2 2012 Federal and State Drought Designations

3.3 2012 Fence Replacement Cost Share Eligibility

3.4 2014 U.S. Drought Monitor


4.1 2011 CRP Policy

4.2 2013 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Acreage Reduction

4.3 2012 Federal Reinsurance for Private Sector Catastrophic Livestock Risk Insurance

4.4 2010 Round-Up Ready Alfalfa


5.1 2014 Labor/Unionization

5.2 2010 Labor – Orderly Marketing

5.3 2010 Davis-Bacon Act Exemption

5.4 2010 Workmen's Compensation

5.5 2010 Labor – Unemployment Compensation

5.6 2010 Labor – Wage and Employee Standards

5.7 2010 Labor Relations Act

5.8 2010 Labor – Right-to-Work and Secondary Boycotts

5.9 2012 Immigration Reform

5.10 2012 H-2A or Agricultural Worker Program Enhancements

5.11 2011 Border Security Policy


6.1 2013 Irradiation

6.2 2013 Food Safety Education

6.3 2010 E. coli Research

6.4 2013 Cloning

6.5 2013 Labeling of Safe Product

6.6 2010 Salmonella Research

6.7 2011 Beef Industry Commitment to Pre-Harvest Food Safety Intervention

6.8 2013 Beef Industry Commitment to Reduce Pathogenic Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli


7.1 2012 Imported Meat Inspection Equivalency

7.2 2010 Domestic Meat Inspection

7.3 2010 FSIS National Residue Monitoring Program

7.4 2012 Foreign Inspection


8.1 2013 Nutrition & Health Statement of Principles

8.2 2010 Nutrient and Food Consumption Survey

8.3 2010 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

8.4 2010 USDA Consumption Data

8.5 2010 Government Beef Purchases

8.6 2010 Imitation and Substitute Products

8.7 2011 Informative Nutrient Labeling

8.8 2011 Dietary Recommendation Issues

8.9 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

8.10 2014 Vegetable Protein Enhanced Products

The Association’s response and objection to the majority agreement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that red meat is linked to cancer is also available on the website.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
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