US - The figures showing combined increase in red meat and poultry production stand out and help put in perspective the steady erosion in wholesale meat prices, according to the latest Daily Livestock Report is published by Steiner Consulting Group.
While technically these are not actual meat production numbers given the one-week lag in the poultry reports and the estimated weights for cattle and hogs, the data is consistent with the trends we have observed in recent months.
Combined beef, pork and poultry production for the week ending October 8 was 1.901 billion pounds (carcass wt. equiv.), 76.5 million pounds (+4.2 per cent) higher than the same week a year ago.
Supplies are expected to increase for the remainder of the year, bolstered in part by larger hog inventories but also higher numbers of cattle (both fed and non‐fed), broilers and turkeys.
We are still climbing the expansionary slope of meat supplies and history tells us that even more red ink will have to flow before producers really push on the brakes. But growth is slowing down. Producers have strategies, both short and longer term, that they will use to limit growth.
In the short term, the strategy that has the most immediate payoff is to feed animals less and thus lower the net supply of product coming to market. We are seeing this happening for all major species.
USDA estimated cattle weights for the last reported week at 836 pounds per carcass, 1.9 per cent lower than the same week a year ago. By lowering the weight of animals going to slaughter producers have avoided bringing an additional 10 million pounds of beef to market last week.
One reason why cattle weights are down being because there are more heifers and cows in the mix, animals that are substantially smaller than a fully grown out steer.
But steer weights are down as well. USDA reports actual steer weights with a two-week lag, so the latest actual data is for week ending September 24. We currently expect steer weights for the next two reported weeks (through last week) to climb to around 911 pounds, seasonally higher but still about 17 pounds (‐1.8 per cent) lower than a year ago (see chart).
As for the medium term (six months out or so) the focus will be on the pace of placements this fall. Expectations are that placements will increase, in part because we have more calves on the ground due to larger calf crops, but also because weaker returns will cause cow‐calf operators to send some heifers to the feedlot rather than retain them for herd rebuilding.
Considering the longer term, heifer retention and beef cow slaughter provide a strong indication. On both those fronts it is clear that producers have indeed started to slow down.
But don’t confuse slowdown with contraction. We have a larger beef cow base today than even a few years ago. That implies more cull cows becoming available. We are far from contraction at this point.
In the hog complex, we are also seeing the effects of producers becoming more aggressive in marketing hogs. Hogs are not gaining weight at the same pace they were in early September and market participants will pay close attention if this will be maintained in November (chart).
With larger slaughter weeks by the end of the year, it is imperative for producers to stay aggressive and contain supply expansion by bringing hogs to market at lighter weights.
Hurricane Matthew likely worked against them this past weekend, with reports of a large plant not running on Saturday. And yet, hog slaughter was still up 6 per cent on last year. So far weekly slaughter in September and October is running at +5 per cent compared to a Mar‐May pig crop of +2.7 per cent.
The fact that slaughter is running so far ahead of hog survey results is one of the key risks that futures are trying to price in the December and possibly February contract.
Sow slaughter and gilt retention will be critical going forward. According to U. of Missouri, sow slaughter for the last 4 reported weeks was up just 2.8 per cent but gilt slaughter was down 1.1 per cent, not exactly major supply contraction flags.
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