Get to the meat of Washington's beef industry with some facts, figures and quick information.
Although the beef industry is widely recognized as an important agricultural commodity, few studies exist evaluating its economic importance. The 2014 Economic Contribution Analysis of the Washington Beef Industry, research conducted by Dr. Shannon Nieburgs of Washington State University, quantifies the impact of beef production on the Washington state economy. Major study findings include:
Washington's beef community supports other agricultural commodities such as potato and hay growers. Cattle feeders use byproducts from potato processing that would otherwise present a waste challenge. Lower value hay that is not suitable to horse and dairy feeding can be fed to beef cattle, providing a marketing outlet for local hay.
Washington's beef community directly supplies about 4,300 local jobs. Because farms and ranches need supplies and services from local companies, and their owners and employees are all local, the total employment resulting from the industry is 13,933 jobs. The beef processing sector (slaughterhouses in Washington) directly employs the most people, with 2,800 jobs. The average labor income for beef processing is $44,500. The average income across all sectors is $76,000.
Pen riders check cattle health each day at the feedyard on horseback. These employees monitor thousands of cattle each day. Inexperienced pen riders are matched up with an experienced rider, to be trained and gain experience reading the signs of sick and healthy cattle. Employee retention at the feedyard is a key to managing cattle health effectively and efficiently.
There are over 9,000 ranches in Washington. On average, these families have been operating their ranches for 47 year, some for over 100 years. Ranches in Washington are diverse in size and can be found in all 39 counties. Of the approximately 9,000 ranches and farms, about 6,000 have only ten head of cattle. Only 45 ranches have over 500 head, but represent about 63% of the beef cattle inventory.
Washington’s beef cow inventory peaked in 1984 at 436,000 cows and has declined to 209,000 cows in 2014. Washington’s beef herd has declined at a much higher rate than the rest of the country. While the U.S. beef herd has declined by 26% since the 1980's, Washington's beef cattle herd has reduced by about half.
There are 20-30 cattle feedyards in Washington. The dry, mild environment of southeastern Washington, and the close proximity to agricultural byproducts and crops make it a great location for cattle feeding.
The number of cattle feedyards has decreased, while the size of the farms has increased to gain efficiency and economies of scale. The larger feedyards are located in close proximity to the two major beef slaughter facilities in Washington. Cattle do not have to be transported far from the feedyard to slaughter, which improves animal welfare and beef quality by limiting stress.
Washington's cattle feeding sector ranks 14th in the nation in size, at about 210,000 head on feed any given year. This is substantially lower than the top 3 feeding states, that can feed over 2 million head at one time.
In Washington, the benefit of being a diverse agricultural producer is obvious for cattle feeders. We grow it all from hay to apples, grapes to grains. And cattle upcycle those plants into high quality protein.
There are two significant beef slaughter facilities in Washington, Agri Beef's Washington Beef packing plant in Toppenish, WA and Tyson Foods Inc. packing plant in Wallula, WA. There are a few smaller facilities that slaughter cull cows (beef and dairy cows that have reached the end of breeding or milking productivity), and a few cooperative-founded mobile and fixed location slaughter facilities.
Having packing plants in Washington provides opportunities to keep cattle, and dollars in our state from pasture to plate. The next closest plant on the west is located in Utah.