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The State of Beef: Nebraska’s most important ag sector faces uncertain future

OUTSIDE OF CODY, NEB. — Wade Andrews’ 21-year-old pickup bucked wildly as he navigated the rutted Cherry County Sandhills where his family has raised cattle since 1888.

Down below, standing in the bend of a shallow river, a herd of 200 Black Angus cows with their 4-month-old calves watched warily for who or what was invading their normally peaceful pasture.

This is the middle of a county known as “God’s Own Cow Country,” an oasis of grass-covered hills and clear, shallow lakes ideal for raising cattle, which outnumber people here 50 to 1.

The seasons here aren’t measured in spring, summer and fall, but calving, branding, weaning and then, come November, sale day at the auction barn in Valentine.

But ranchers like Andrews worry that their way of life is slipping away amid low cattle prices and ever-rising expenses.

Andrews said he hasn’t made a profit in five years, despite record-high prices for steaks and hamburger at the grocery store.

Prices for his calves are nearly half of what they were six to seven years ago. With cattle prices like that, he’s had to dip into rainy day funds to cover his rising expenses for hay, feed