What to Expect from the 2020s

We asked veterinarians for their thoughts on the key challenges and opportunities for success in eight categories during the decade of the 2020s. ( Lori Hays )

During the past decade, we saw numerous changes in beef and dairy production, and in the ways veterinarians serve those industries. These include the emergence of remote monitoring, advanced data systems, new diagnostic tools, genomic technologies, acceleration of antibiotic-resistance in cattle pathogens and drug resistance in cattle parasites.

Most of these trends will continue through the 2020s, and we’ll see the emergence of new trends, new insights and applications for science and technology in animal agriculture, along with changes in regulations, production practices, consumer perceptions and preferences.

While no one can predict every trend, veterinarians serve as forward-looking change agents in animal agriculture, as they continuously evaluate new systems, products, practices and philosophies for potential adoption on their clients’ operations.

With that in mind, we asked veterinarians for their thoughts on the key challenges and opportunities for success in eight categories during the decade of the 2020s. Following are their responses related to industry structure.

John Maas: In beef cattle production, the cow-calf and seedstock operations will continue to suffer economically unless there are some major changes.  Many cow-calf operations fall into the subsidized category from an economic viewpoint. These include large operations run by owners as long-term real estate investments and short-term capital reservoirs, and smaller operations that are subsidized by one or more owners with off-ranch jobs.  In both circumstances, the buyers of these cattle tend to pay less than what the cattle are worth. Many producers really are not up to date on production technologies or preventive medicine.  Investors are too far removed from the operations, and part-time producers do not have enough time or resources to keep current. This is particularly true in the realms of animal welfare and disease prevention.

Dee Griffin:   Significant impact on BRD would be made by widening price spread between feeder steers and bulls.  The spread is seldom more than 5%, which is not enough to send the message down the chain to castrate bull calves. Packers and retailers might be able to drive this issue.  

Mark Hilton:  We need a workable national ID program. We are years behind other countries and if we want to continue to provide high quality beef to the world we need to work together and get this done. The plan will not be ideal for everyone, but we need to focus on what is best for the U.S. beef industry.

Tom Furman:  Population expansion and urban development continues to make agriculture difficult in some places.  Some of my feedyards have been swallowed up by the "city".  Other feedyards are being challenged by neighbors who have nothing to do with ag.

Anonymous:  Dairies will continue to get larger.  There will be many dairies or groups of dairies that hire in-house veterinarians.  In most cases, they will be involved in training the employees to perform reproductive exams and other health-related treatments. With long periods of low milk prices, controlling costs and becoming more efficient are common ways to improve profit margins.

Dairies that ship to smaller local processing plants may find themselves facing imposed quotas to control supplies.

Ryan Rademacher, DVM, Feedlot Health Management Services, Alberta: The industries that practitioners service will continue to consolidate, posing both challenges and opportunities. Those who embrace the changes and capitalize on the opportunities they provide will see their services become increasing scalable and enhance their clients’ and own successes. While some tasks must remain under the purview of the veterinary profession, removing those that don’t will allow veterinarians the opportunity to provide increasing value to clients. Veterinarians who integrate their services into the business model of their clients will likely see the most impactful and valuable outcomes and experience more success in navigating a consolidating industry.

For responses relating to other subject categories, see these articles on BovineVetOnline:

Part 1: Client Services and Communications

Part 2: Medical Technology

Part 3: Animal genetics

Part 4: Antibiotic Stewardship