Large Meat Supplies Expected for Rest of the Year

Supply pressures are expected to keep finished steer prices about $5 per hundredweight lower than during the same period last year.

Published on: Apr 25, 2006

Meat supplies will remain large for the remainder of the year, says a Purdue University Extension marketing specialist.

"Beef production is expected to be up about 5% for the rest of 2006, while pork production may rise by 3% and broiler production by 2%," says Chris Hurt. "These supply pressures are expected to keep finished steer prices about $5 per hundredweight lower than during the same period last year."

Hurt's comments came as he reviewed the cattle market, where large meat supplies coupled with difficulties exporting beef and broilers has led to record-large domestic meat supplies in the early part of 2006.

"Feedlot managers remained optimistic in the face of prospects for weakening finished cattle prices and new concerns about corn and sorghum prices," he says. "This optimism was reflected in a large increase in cattle headed to feedlots in March. In fact, the 11.8 million head now in feedlots with capacity of 1,000 head or more is estimated by USDA to be the largest April 1 number since the current report began in 1996."

First-quarter 2006 beef, pork, and poultry supplies reached a record 21.6 billion pounds, 4% higher than last year. Beef production led the increases in the first quarter, with a 6% surge, followed by both pork and broiler supplies, up by nearly 4%.

"For beef, the composition of the 6% increase came from a bit over a 3% greater head count which left almost 3% due to heavier marketing weights," he explains. "Export problems for beef and broilers also meant more meat for domestic consumers.

"Beef exports to Japan were cut off again after an improper shipment of veal in January. In addition, avian influenza in parts of Europe and Asia lowered demand for chicken and resulted in 9% less broiler exports from the United States in the first quarter. As a result, there was nearly 5% more chicken in the domestic market, which was composed of the 4% increase in production and an additional 1% in lost exports."

Hurt says that given all the supply pressure, demand for beef held well and prices were not as depressed as for pork and chicken. Finished steer prices in the first quarter averaged near $89, about the same as in the first quarter of 2005. However, by March and April, these prices moved about $5 to $7 lower than last year as supply pressures have mounted.

"Large beef supplies remain in store for coming months," Hurt says. "In the March USDA Cattle on Feed report, on-feed numbers were reported to be up by 9% compared to last year at the same time. There were 939,000 more cattle in the feedlots on April 1 compared to the same date last year.

"Texas led the way with 320,000 more cattle, followed by Kansas with 250,000 more, and Nebraska with 140,000 additional animals."

All of the 12 major reporting states increased feedlot inventories, except for Washington. Placements were up by 5%, which was more than the 3% increase that was expected prior to the report. Total March placements were up 87,000 head, led by both Kansas and Nebraska, which each increased 35,000 head more than March of 2005.

Lighter-weight calves were popular placements in March as calves weighing less than 600 pounds were up 81,000 head, or 27%. With some heifers still being retained to head back to brood cow herds, the portion of steer and steer calves was very high, at 66% of all the cattle in feedlots.

Prices for finished Nebraska steers in the second quarter are expected to average in the lower $80s compared to about $88 last year. Third quarter prices may drop to an average in the mid to high $70s. Last-quarter prices should improve some, with prices moving back into the low $80s.

"Cattle feeders are also watching the corn and sorghum markets closely," says Hurt. "Concerns about the low planted acreage to these crops, growing utilization of corn and sorghum for ethanol, and uneasiness regarding summer weather are all contributing to increased anxiety about the potential for higher feed costs from the 2006 crop."