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Shelby’s beef prices jumping

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But farmers can’t meet need for providing organic products

By Lisa King

If you’re a cattle producer, things are looking up, experts say.

Corinne Kephart, who heads up the animal science and horticulture department at the Shelby County Cooperative Extension office, said cattle prices are really looking good right now.

“Right now, cattle prices are really good compared to last year,” she said. “A decrease in cattle production out West because of a drought has really driven prices up.”

Kephart, who is a member and past president of the Shelby County Cattleman’s Association, said that of as Monday, the per-pound price for a 700-to-800-pound feeder steer was between $1.35 and $1.42.

“That’s just fabulous – any time you go over a dollar a pound, that’s really good,” she said.

Kephart said that Kentucky is the No. 8 cattle-producing state in the country, and the United States Census reported that in 2007, Shelby County ranked 26th in the state.

Kephart said the most recent figures available (2009), shows the county as No., 24, raising 16,200 head of beef cattle.

And that’s down from 2007, when the agriculture census estimated that about 35,000 head, said Jim Ellis, president of the Shelby Area Rural Conservation.

“We have another ag census coming out this year, because they do them every five years, so it will be interesting to see what the numbers are now,” he said.

At a recent presentation of the results of a rural agriculture survey done in Shelby County, many of those who  attended expressed interest in promoting food production on local farms.

“We need to focus more on growing food,” naturist Horace Brown said at that event.

Although the topic was not part of the survey, some of those who attended also expressed on interest in organically grown livestock.

But though that is a trend that is gaining some momentum around the state, Kephart said she has not seen too much of it in Shelby County.

Shelby currently is without an ag agent, but Traci Missun, Oldham County’s agriculture agent, agrees with Kephart.

“We haven’t seen too much of that around here, because it is very challenging trying to get a farm certified to raise organic livestock,” she said. “There are restrictions on pastures, what the cattle are fed. You can’t use antibiotics or steroids, the list is extensive. But we are seeing a slight trend of farmers going to naturally fed beef.”

One couple, Melissa and Josh Ballard, who live in Shelby County and have small cattle operations in Clark and Spencer counties, are going that route.

“We are not going to try for organic certification, because that would drive production costs way up, but we do raise grass-fed cattle,” Melissa Ballard said. “That costs a little more for consumers than grain-fed, but not much. But we think it is healthier.”

State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville), who has 130 head of cattle on Rockbridge Road, said he thinks the public interest in organic produce and livestock is just  a desire to live healthier lifestyles.

“I think there’s a trend of people wanting to get back to knowing where your food comes from,” he said. “Just look at how well farmers’ markets are doing in the last couple of years, I think that’s a good indication.

“We just passed legislation in this session that allows people to cow-share. If you own part of a cow,  you get part of the milk, for raw milk.

“So there’s a big push for all kinds of things like that; I think people just want to get back to basics.”

Ellis said the organic livestock trend “kind of goes in ebbs and flows.”

“About 10 years ago, there was a big trend in that, when Laura’s Lean Beef came in,” he said. “I don’t know if they were organic but were supposed to be healthier.”

Said Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, a former candidate for state ag commissioner: “As people start becoming more health conscious, they want organic food. The market’s there. It’s just more expensive, and you have to find your niche.

“I think that organic food is really starting to flow here in Kentucky, and I’m excited talking about it, because when I was running for agriculture commissioner, I was really wanting to put a lot of emphasis behind that.”