Where''s the beef?

March 4, 2009 06:00 PM

Linda Smith, Top Producer Executive Editor  

The cattle herd is the smallest since 1959 and the calf crop is the smallest since 1951. Corn demand for feeding cattle will decline until 2013—if numbers stabilize and begin to increase again by then, says Steve Kay of Cattle Buyers Weekly. USDA is already forecasting less feed usage of corn in 2009, in part because of declining cattle and hog numbers, in part because of price. It seems unlikely that cattle feeders will use more corn if prices remain the same or even decline.  

"One of the ironies of very high corn prices in 2008 was that cattle feeders did not reduce the time cattle remained on feed. So presumably they did not feed less corn,” Kay notes. "That's one reason why we have record carcass weights for this time of year and some of the highest percentages of Prime and Choice beef for many years. Cattle spent more time on pasture before being put on feed and that will likely continue this year. But they will likely spend a similar time in feedlots. What happened last year and into this year is that cattle-feeding losses mounted to over $200/head as cattle feeders absorbed the high cost of corn (and didn't buy feeder-cattle cheap enough) and live cattle prices were much lower than expected.”  

You can e-mail Linda Smith at lsmith@farmjournal.com.
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