Cattle prices up despite slow herd growth

Feb 05, 2024

By Farms.com

The CattleFax Outlook Seminar at the 2024 Cattle Industry Convention in Orlando shared insights on market trends and weather analysis. The smallest beef cow inventory in 50 years, coupled with robust demand, resulted in record average fed cattle and calf prices in 2023. Despite high prices, expansion may be delayed due to factors like lingering drought, high input costs, limited labor, and market uncertainty. The current cattle cycle foresees a slower and more extended expansion, with heifer retention causing a supply decline by 2026. 

Meteorologist Matt Makens highlighted the shift from El Niño to La Niña, predicting increased heat and drought-related issues for the Central and Southern Plains. Kevin Good, VP of Market Analysis at CattleFax, reported a 2% decline in the U.S. beef cow herd, with inventories at 28.2 million head in 2024. Drought conditions impacted over a third of the cow herd in 2023, limiting growth. 

CattleFax predicted a decline in feeder cattle and calf supplies in 2024, along with reduced commercial fed slaughter. Beef production is expected to decrease by a billion pounds to 25.9 billion pounds. Mike Murphy, CattleFax COO, forecasted higher cattle prices, with the average fed steer price at $184/cwt. in 2024. 

Despite consumer concerns about inflation, debt, and interest rates, Good anticipated strong demand for U.S. beef. Global protein demand is rising, supporting prices, although U.S. beef exports are expected to decline further in 2024. 

Troy Bockelmann, Director of Protein and Grain Analysis highlighted the importance of hay stocks and expected corn prices to remain below $5.50/bu. Crude oil is forecasted to average around $80/barrel in 2024. 

Randy Blach, CattleFax CEO, provided an overall positive outlook, predicting a slower and prolonged cattle cycle. Heifer retention nationwide has yet to begin, and industry profitability is expected to favor cow-calf producers until the peak in cattle prices around 2025-2026.

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