Even though it is February, I always start to hear about the state of the state of the cattle industry this time of year.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) national convention ended last week with some positive tones from the association and CattleFax, a national cattle reporting service.
Nearly all of those in the know in the beef business are talking positively about the price of cattle.
To find out what is causing these higher prices, one first needs to look at the number of cattle nationally, the number of breeding cattle processed and the total number of cattle processed.
Cattle numbers are not expected to grow this year due to a lingering drought in the Southern Plains, high input costs, limited labor availability, higher interest rates and cattle market uncertainty.
The U.S. cattle inventory, as of Jan. 1, was at 87.2 million head, a loss of 2.5 percent from Jan. 1, 2023. This is a decrease of 3.47 million head of cattle or 10.9 percent from the cyclical peak in 2019. We’re at the smallest herd size in around 50 years.
There are four major meatpackers processing 85 percent of slaughter cattle in the U.S. They basically control the prices of cattle and beef in our country. Except, while they may influence the total number of cattle, when cattle numbers are this low with high prices, they have a harder time controlling cattle prices ranchers, farmers and feeders receive.
It is high time cattlemen receive a price for their cattle that they are really worth. With inflation
and input costs, with lower cattle prices, it would really hurt the cattle industry.
Even with the high cattle prices, buying grazing lands for expansion or someone wanting to get in the cattle business is almost prohibitive.
CattleFax reports, “After about a 1.3 billion-pound decline in 2023, beef production is expected to be down another billion pounds in 2024 to a total about 25.9 billion pounds. The decline in production in 2024 will lead to a 1.7-pound decline in net beef supply to 56 pounds consumed annually per person.”
Beef exports were down around 12 to 13 percent in 2023 and the U.S. Meat Export Federation Chief Executive Officer Dan Halstrom says, “While this sounds negative, 2023 is still probably going to be the second-largest year ever for U.S. beef exports, behind 2022.”
There are a number of areas where U.S. beef exports are growing – Latin America, Southeast Asia and even Africa all want our beef. Maybe this is why all of those immigrants are coming to America – they like our beef.
American beef is the best in the world, this can be shown for all of the fake meat products and lab-grown meat that are struggling now.
The good news is lawmakers are filing bills to boost transparency and clarify labeling requirements for plant protein and cell-cultured protein products so consumers have the full picture when buying groceries.
Also, there is legislation for accurate meat labeling to tell where that product was raised and processed, in an effort to stop mixing in other countries’ meat with U.S. meat.
All of our meat is from commodities, these commodities go through cycles. These cycles, such as cattle, lamb and pork, sometimes take years to complete.
While producers need high prices, they have to manage for the lower prices as well.
Dennis Sun is the publisher of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, a weekly agriculture newspaper available online and in print. To subscribe, visit wylr.net.