A conversation with … Mark Harms

12/09/2012 7:56 AM

08/08/2014 10:13 AM

Mark Harms wasn’t born into the cattle business, but he likes it so much he took over as president of the Kansas Livestock Association last week.

He raised cattle for 20 years and now owns or leases nearly 4,000 acres in Marion County, south of Lincolnville.

Harms is married to Kim, and they have three children.

What got you into raising cattle?

Well, my roots are in agriculture. I grew up in south-central Nebraska, in largely irrigated corn country. Most of the ag use land was for row crop production with small pastures, but my interest for various reasons was always in livestock, particularly cattle. My wife’s family raised cattle, and she grew up in it. The land had been handed down in her family since 1885 – and now the pressure’s on the son-in-law (laughs).

How big is the ranch?

The land her parents had was roughly 500 acres and we purchased about that much more. They had had cattle, but had sold them off earlier and had a commercial laying hen operation and that had allowed them to stay in production agriculture when times got tough.

Do times in the cattle industry seem hard right now?

I don’t know that these are difficult times, but there are always challenges. By the nature of the industry, there are lot of things that are out of your control and your job as a manager is to figure out how to accommodate yourself to them. The drought is the big thing these days. Seventy percent of the cattle producing areas of the country are affected by the drought at some level and that’s putting stress on everyone.

What are the problems caused by the drought?

Feed costs are way up. The main feed for cattle is grass, and if there’s not as much grass because of the drought, you’ll have to diminish the herd.

It seems that ranchers haven’t cut their herds as much as they could have in the last year. Are farmers betting on a rebound?

Oh, certainly we are continuing to reduce the herd, but the day will come when it rains, and the country heals up, and people recoup some of the extra expenses. You get a little creative, using more crop residue, wheat straw, corn stalks, combine that with by-products like distillers grain to provide a balanced diet. That’s one nice thing about cattle, they do have the ability to use all these forages.

Ranchers did sell off some of their herd this year; when will they make decisions about next year?

If over the winter we’ve had some moisture, some snow or rain, there will be some expectation for grass greening up, and if we’re getting grass again, maybe they don’t have to be so aggressive. If we don’t get moisture, they will have to be much more aggressive. So spring is a critical time. That’s when we can start to know what we’ll have for the year.

Let’s just say it will rain, that will make it a whole lot easier for everybody.

What’s the status to changes in the federal rules to encourage all cattle sales to go through open markets rather than private contracts?

The changes in GIPSA rules have been tabled at least temporarily … The point behind all of that would have reversed the progress by the beef industry and value-based marketing. It’s a quality issue, not safety issue, because they are both inspected. Now they are priced according to what they were valued at. A lot of producers had invested a lot in improving the quality of their cattle. If the GIPSA changes had taken legs, it would have meant the end of the incentives for a higher quality product.

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