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Sellers holding out for higher cattle prices

Jeff Swenson

Prepared and written by Jeff Swenson, DATCP Livestock and Meat Specialist. The Market Update draws information from several sources, including trade publications, radio broadcasts, agricultural news services, individuals involved in the industry as well as USDA NASS and AMS reports.

Jeff Swenson

Fed cattle prices continued steady to lower this week with fewer cattle trading. Sellers are holding out for higher prices. This is the third consecutive week of lower cash. Packers are also looking to preserve their margins.

Overall, this is still a bull market with potential upside given the supply of cattle and what appears to be good demand heading into grilling season. Summer travel means more meals eaten away from home, which increases ground beef consumption.

The Choice beef cutout value is about $51 higher than this time last year and increased 22 cents last week to average $309.86. Estimated harvest was 623,000 head last week, making it 1,000 less than the previous week and 38,000 less than a year ago. Year-to-date harvest is 3.3% lower than a year ago with live and carcass weights continuing to be lower than in 2022.

Beef exports totaled 120,495 metric tons in March, down 5% from a year ago. Export value fell 17% to $892.6 million, but both volume and value were the highest in five months. Through the first quarter, beef exports were down 8% year-over-year. March beef export value equated to $397.22 per head of fed cattle harvested, down 16% from a year ago, while the first quarter average was down 21% to $373.42. Exports accounted for 14.6% of total March beef production.

Pork exports remain strong

Pork exports have been strong so far this year, with March logging the largest total since May 2021. March pork exports totaled 260,195 metric tons, up 17% year-over-year and the ninth largest volume on record. Export value was also ninth largest at $724 million, up 18% from a year ago.

Pork had a strong first quarter as exports reached 716,691 metric tons, up 14% from a year ago. March pork export value equated to $63.15 per head, up 15% from a year ago, while the first quarter average increased 11% to $60.29. March exports accounted for 29.1% of total pork production.

Hog supplies continue to outpace expectations. Last week’s estimated harvest was 2.447 million, putting it ahead of the previous week by 60,000 head and 42,000 above a year ago. The pork carcass cutout has shown some recent strength, up $1.90 last week to average $80.92.

Lamb market is mixed

The lamb market remains mixed with light lambs trading lower again last week and traditional lambs steady to higher. The sheep and lamb estimated harvest was 35,000 last week, making it 1,000 head more than the previous week and 4,000 ahead of last year. The lamb carcass cutout value was sharply higher, ending last week at $524.82.

March exports of U.S. lamb muscle cuts totaled 218 metric tons, down 5% from a year ago, but export value still climbed 11% higher to $1.4 million. First quarter exports increased 35% to 664 metric tons.

RPCE remain low across the board

Real per capita expenditures (RPCE) of meat and chicken were lower in March. RPCE for pork was down 13.3% from March 2022. Beef was 10.7% lower, with chicken down 0.6%. Overall, meat and chicken RPCE was 9.1% lower.

State livestock market roundup

High-yielding, high-grading cattle were $1 lower this week bringing $139 to $172/cwt. Groups of high Choice and Prime steers and heifers brought up to $182/cwt. The Holstein steer market was higher, ranging from $116 to $150/cwt with the top end bringing $150 to $155. Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $74 to $116/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were bringing $112 to $167/cwt.

Cows were $2 to $3 higher. A bulk of the cows brought $69 to $97/cwt with some selling higher. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $69/cwt and down. Dairy breed bull calves were steady to higher, bringing $100 to $250/cwt with some heavier, well cared for calves selling to $350. Beef and Beef Cross calves were selling to $600/cwt with a few higher. Market lambs were lower at $130 to $160/cwt. With a few higher. Light lambs were mixed and sold to $225/cwt.