Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook - April 2011

High beef prices continue in the US, however with supplies of heavier fed cattle expected to hit the market, some believe prices may fall, according to the latest Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook from the USDA's Economic Research Service.
calendar icon 16 April 2011
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USDA Economic Research Service


Beef/Cattle: Higher prices currently characterise the entire cattle/beef complex from cow-calf through retail. However, increasing supplies of fed cattle from last fall/winter’s heavier year-over-year placements are expected to exert downward pressure on fed cattle prices when they begin to come to market during the second quarter of 2011.

Beef/Cattle Trade: US beef exports in 2011 are forecast to be 176 million pounds greater than 2010 at 2.48 billion pounds. Year-over-year growth is expected to decline as the year progresses and less US beef becomes available for exports. Counter to exports, US beef imports should increase as the year progresses, with strong growth forecast in the final quarter of this year. In total, 2.24 billion pounds are forecast to be imported in 2011.

Pork/Hogs: The March Hogs and Pigs report showed a slightly larger inventory of market hogs, but any price effects of the slightly larger numbers are expected to be largely offset by continued strong domestic and international demand for US pork. Continued productivity gains are likely to reduce effects of hog producers’ stated intentions to reduce spring and summer farrowings. 2011 live equivalent prices of 51 to 52 per cent lean hogs are expected to be $62-$65 per cwt, compared with $55.06 a year ago. Second-quarter 2011 prices are expected to be $67 to $69 per cwt, up from $59.60 in the same period of 2010. February exports were more than seven per cent greater than in February 2010, with Japan, Mexico and South Korea together accounting for 64 per cent of shipments.

Poultry: The forecast for US broiler meat production in 2011 was decreased slightly to 37.4 billion pounds, 1.4 per cent higher than in 2010, with the reduction coming in the first quarter. Even with strong growth in broiler meat production expected in first-quarter 2011, the estimates for broiler ending stocks were lowered. The combination of small or no increases in production in the remainder of 2011, lower stock levels, and support from higher livestock prices is expected to place upward pressure on most broiler product prices. Turkey production in January and February was 899 million pounds, up six per cent from the previous year. Expected slower production growth for the remainder of 2011 and lower cold storage holdings are expected to exert upward pressure on turkey prices. Whole bird prices for first quarter 2011 were up 19 per cent from a year earlier.

Poultry Trade: February broiler and turkey shipments were up from a year ago. Broiler shipments totaled 514 million pounds, an increase of 12 per cent from February 2010 shipments. Turkey shipments totaled 53 million pounds, a 36 per cent increase from last year.

Dairy: Feed prices are expected to remain high throughout 2011. However, milk production is expected to continue to rise, based on slightly higher cow numbers and increased output per cow. Milk equivalent exports on both a fats and skims-solids basis will trail last year but are still significant enough to help support prices above 2010 levels. Forecast increases in commercial domestic use should also provide support prices as exports could weaken later in the year.


Southern dryness creates uncertainty in feeder cattle and cow markets

Early March rains alleviated part of the dry conditions in the Southeastern United States. However, the dry conditions have continued to spread and intensify in areas of the Southern Plains Region and could lead to further cow herd reductions and reduced demand for feeder cattle for spring/summer grazing programs. Roughly a third of the national beef cow herd is found in the areas affected by drought at the end of March.

Federally inspected non-dairy cow slaughter this year is about five per cent below slaughter through the fourth week in March 2010. However, the first-quarter 2010 estimated commercial beef cow slaughter was the highest first-quarter estimate since 1997. The reduced beef cow slaughter could be an indication that producers may be beginning to consider cow-herd stabilisation or even expansion. Even if commercial beef cow slaughter in 2011 were to decline by five per cent, it would still represent the third highest commercial beef cow slaughter since 1997, exceeded only in 2008 and 2010. With subsequent inventory declines of that magnitude, and based on the lowest January 1 cow inventory since the early 1950s, it is hard to rationalise the reduced cow slaughter as expansion in any real sense. At any rate, beef cow inventories are expected to continue to decline, even if normal slaughter rates occur during the remainder of 2011.

A beginning herd expansion in 2013 will occur only if sufficient heifers are retained during 2011 to be bred in 2011 or 2012 and counted as heifers expected to calve or as cows in the 1 January 2013 inventory report. The 1 July cattle inventory report from USDA, NASS could provide some insight into the status of heifer inventories. Prospects for the expected heifer inventory expansion depend on adequate pasture and range conditions during 2011. The continued dryness in the Southern tier of states and scattered additional areas — home to more than one-third of the beef cow inventory — will likely dampen expansion plans in those affected areas.

Thus far in 2011, cattle feeders have been in a positive situation, with margins not seen since last May. Despite increasing grain and feed prices, margins in March were well over $100 per head. Southern Plains feeding costs for the second quarter are estimated to be in the $110 to $120 per cwt range, well below live cattle futures prices at their recent peaks but also well above the $103.16 average for first quarter 2011.

Beef prices exceed expectations

Cut-out values have reached levels not seen since October 2003, when the United States experienced reduced supplies of fed cattle and beef due to BSE in Canada. The US had imposed import bans on Canadian cattle and beef in May 2003. Although the beef ban was lifted in August 2003, it was October before US beef supplies again reached a level where prices began to decline. The situation today is different because cattle and beef supplies are tight due to significantly lower cattle inventories in North America. Despite the low supplies of cattle and beef, current levels in wholesale cut-out values may begin to slip after the early demand for grilling products subsides later this quarter and last fall and winter’s year-over-year larger feedlot placements of feeder cattle begin coming to market.

However, retail beef prices could receive what is expected to be a short-lived boost from increases in demand as grilling season approaches and retailers begin purchasing for that market. Other meat species, however, are better positioned price-wise for advertising specials at the retail level for the foreseeable future. Retail prices could average above those of last year due to the anticipated reduced supplies of beef later in 2011.

Ground beef prices remain high relative to prices for other cuts of beef, a situation that has persisted since the last half of 2006. A number of factors have come together to provide support for ground beef products. Firstly, during the economic downturn and current state of unemployment, consumers have cut costs in many ways, purchasing relatively inexpensive cuts of beef, pork and poultry, and ground beef is one of the cheaper beef products. Ground beef is a very versatile product that consumers can use in many ways to cut the costs of meat dishes that other cuts cannot — think stews, sauces, casseroles and other dishes. Second, cull cows and bulls supply a major portion of processing beef that is blended with 50 per cent lean beef to make ground beef blends, and as supplies of processing beef tighten, increased demand for ground beef provides incentives to use leaner cuts from fed cattle carcasses for grinding. As the proportion of Choice-grading fed cattle increases — which has occurred over the last few years — leaner cuts become more scarce, and the volume of 50 per cent lean trim, which is blended with leaner beef to make ground products, increases. Finally, imports of processing beef — also blended with US beef to make ground products — have declined due to declining cattle inventories worldwide and a weak dollar, both of which make those imports relatively more expensive in the United States.

Beef/Cattle Trade

Growth in US beef exports to continue through third quarter

US beef exports for 2011 are forecast at 2.48 billion pounds, 176 million pounds greater than in 2010. If export estimates for this year are attained, 2011 would rival the second highest yearly export volume, recorded in 2002. The 2011 forecast is only 1.7 per cent below the record level exported in 2003.

This growth in US exports is expected to continue in Asian markets, namely in Japan and Korea, as well as through steady-to-growing export quantities shipped to Taiwan, Viet Nam and Hong Kong. Increased production in Mexico should somewhat temper growth in US exports to Mexico this year. In addition, the Egyptian market can be expected to regain momentum as the country continues to transition politically, creating more stability in the marketplace.

Quarterly growth is anticipated though the third quarter of this year. However, increases in percentage growth should diminish as 2011 progresses and domestic supplies of beef become tighter. Year-over-year, US beef exports are expected to increase 31, 11 and five per cent in the first, second and third quarters of this year, respectively. Exports are forecast to be below year-earlier levels in the fourth quarter of the year.

US beef imports to increase as 2011 progresses

The pattern for growth in US beef imports for 2011 should run counter to the trend in diminishing growth in exports. The supply of beef from Oceania entering the export market should increase as the year progresses, and year-over-year growth in US imports should begin in the third quarter. Beef imports for the first and second quarters of the year should be 16 and 14 per cent, respectively, below year-earlier levels. Third-quarter imports should be about one per cent greater than the same period a year earlier and beef imports in the final quarter of the year are expected to be 27 per cent higher. Total 2011 imports should be about three per cent below 2010, for a yearly total of 2.24 billion pounds.

US beef exports and imports, 2001-2010
Source USDA, Economic Research Service

Quarterly US beef exports and imports, 2010-2011
Source USDA, Economic Research Service


All hogs and pigs inventory increases while farrowing intentions lag

The Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report released by USDA on 25 March offered a mixed perspective of US hog production. The report showed a slightly higher 1 March inventory of all hogs and pigs. The market hog component of the inventory was almost one per cent larger than a year ago. With all other factors unchanged, slightly higher market hog numbers could be expected to have a dampening effect on hog prices. But it is more likely that expected strong domestic and foreign pork demand will offset any downside price effects of higher market hog inventories.

The report also indicated that producers intend to farrow about three per cent fewer female breeding animals in both the spring (March-May) and summer (June-August) quarters of this year. Even if producers follow through with their stated intentions, it is likely that continued gains in pigs per litter will limit production effects of lower farrowings. Productivity gains are thus expected to combine with lower stated intentions to yield a spring pig crop only slightly smaller than a year ago. Lower summer farrowings are expected to be more than offset by continued gains in seasonally high litter rates, and thus to result in a marginally higher summer pig crop.

Commercial hog production this year is expected to be 22.6 billion pounds, slightly higher than last year. Second-quarter production is expected to come in at 5.35 billion pounds, almost one per cent above the same period last year. Live equivalent prices of 51 to 52 per cent lean hogs are expected to be $62 to $65 per cwt this year, more than 15 per cent above 2010 prices. For the second quarter, the expected price of $67-$69 is more than 14 per cent above the same period last year.

February exports strong

February US pork exports were almost 388 million pounds, more than seven per cent higher than a year ago. While the relatively low-valued US dollar benefited most buyers of US pork products in February, the value of the dollar with respect to the Japanese yen, in particular, likely spurred Japanese purchases of US pork. February exports also reflect expected higher shipments to South Korea, in the aftermath of a series of recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. Shipments to Japan, Mexico and South Korea accounted for about 64 per cent of exports in February. First-quarter pork exports are expected to be 1.15 billion pounds, almost 10 per cent above the same period a year ago. For the year, US pork exports, forecast at 4.675 billion pounds are expected to be 10.6 per cent higher than a year ago and to account for 20.7 per cent of US commercial pork production.

US pork imports, at 60.4 million pounds in February, were about 7.2 per cent lower than a year ago. Of the five largest sources of imported pork, February shipments from Canada, Denmark and Italy were lower, while imports from Poland and Mexico were higher, year-over-year. While the relatively low value of the US dollar typically spurs US pork exports, it is also likely that US pork imports in February were slowed by the effects of the low-valued dollar. Live swine imports were almost 461,000 head in February, 1.7 per cent lower than in February 2010. Live swine imports were almost 461,000 head in February, 1.7 per cent lower than in February 2010. US imports of segregated-early-weaned animals increased almost nine per cent, likely reflecting strong returns in February from finishing hogs in the United States.


Broiler production revised downward in first quarter

The forecast for first-quarter 2011 broiler meat production was revised downward slightly to 9.2 billion pounds, 5.3 per cent higher than the previous year. The revision was due to lower than expected weight gains in much of March. Broiler meat production expanded sharply in January, up 10.5 per cent (helped by one additional slaughter day). However, meat production growth in February (up 4.1 per cent) was due primarily to higher average weights at slaughter (up 3.2 per cent). Preliminary estimates point toward only a small increase in the number of birds slaughtered in March, with most of the growth again coming from continued gains in bird weights. For the remaining three quarters of 2011, broiler meat production is expected to average about even with the previous year as production adjusts to sharp feed cost increases.

Over the first two months of 2011, broiler meat production totaled 6.0 billion pounds, up seven per cent from a year earlier. This increase in meat production was the result of the combined effect of a higher number of broilers being slaughtered (up 3.6 per cent) and a 3.2 per cent increase in their average live weight to 5.81 pounds. While the amount of broiler meat produced was up by 10.5 per cent in January compared with the previous year, the meat production increase fell to 4.1 per cent in February. The March year-over-year increase in broiler meat production is expected to be even smaller.

Even with the increases in meat production, broiler stock levels have fallen rapidly over the last several months. Ending first-quarter 2011 broiler stocks are forecast at 665 million pounds, down 108 million pounds from the end of 2010 but still 12 per cent above a year earlier. At the end of February, cold storage holdings were 681 million pounds, down 12 per cent from the previous year. While changes in stock reporting methods make year-over-year comparisons difficult, between January and February stocks of most leg meat products declined, but were partially offset by gains in stocks of breast meat and wings. The estimates for broiler ending stocks for the second and fourth quarters were also revised downward.

Weekly estimates of broiler eggs in incubators and chick placements in the NASS Broiler Hatchery Report point toward a continuing slowdown in the growth in the number of eggs being placed in incubators and the number of chicks being placed for grow-out. Over the last five weeks (5 March to 2 April), the number of eggs placed in incubators averaged 208 million, 1.2 per cent higher than during the same period the previous year. During the same period, the number of chicks placed for grow out averaged one per cent more than in the previous year. Chicks placed for grow-out in late March and early April will likely be ready for slaughter in early to mid-May (based on an average grow-out time of seven to eight weeks).

In first-quarter 2011, the 12–City price for whole broilers averaged 77.9 cents per pound, down 5.3 per cent from the previous year. Although the first quarter price was down from the previous year, prices for whole birds have started moving higher with the March price averaging 82 cents per pound. Overall March prices in the Northeast region, compared with the previous year, averaged lower for breast meat products and higher for leg meat products. The March price for boneless/skinless breast was $1.32 cents per pound, down nine per cent from the previous year.

The March price for boneless/skinless thighs was $1.16 cents per pound, an increase of 23 per cent from March 2010, and for that same period, prices for whole thighs rose by 32 per cent. Prices for many broiler products are expected to strengthen over the next several months due to several factors. Firstly, integrators have slowed the placement of chicks for grow-out in an attempt to lower supplies and raise prices enough to cover the large increases that have occurred in both feed and energy costs. Second, prices are also expected to be strong for both beef and pork products, as supplies are tight in those industries. These factors are expected to place upward pressures on broiler prices but they will be countered by less-than-robust general economic conditions. While US economic conditions appear to be gradually improving, unemployment rates are expected to remain relatively high in 2011.

Turkey production up slightly in 2011

US turkey meat production is estimated at 5.7 billion pounds in 2011, up less than one per cent from the previous year. The increase in turkey meat production is expected to come from a higher number of birds slaughtered, as average weights are not expected to change greatly. Over the first two months of 2011, turkey meat production totalled 899 million pounds, up six per cent from the same period in 2010. During January and February, the number of turkeys slaughtered rose by five per cent from the same period in the previous year and average live bird weights were 30.7 pounds, about one per cent higher than during January and February of 2010.

At the end of February 2011, cold storage holdings of turkey products totalled 296 million pounds, down 13 per cent from the previous year. There were declines in cold storage holdings of most turkey products. Cold storage holdings of whole birds at the end of February were down 19 per cent from the previous year to 122 million pounds, and cold storage holdings of turkey parts totalled 174 million pounds, down nine per cent from the previous year. Cold storage holdings for turkey are expected to remain below year-earlier quantities through the first half of 2011 but to average higher than the previous year’s level in the second half of 2011, chiefly due to smaller exports.

After declining slightly in late 2010 and early 2011, prices for whole turkeys have begun to be pressured higher by slowing gains in production, relatively low stock levels and strong exports. The national price for frozen whole hens was $0.90 per pound in first-quarter 2011, up 19 per cent from first-quarter 2010, which in turn was seven per cent higher than in first-quarter 2009. The March average for frozen whole hens was $0.92 per pound. The combination of only small gains in turkey production and lower stocks is expected to place upward pressure on whole bird prices, keeping them above year-earlier levels throughout 2011, and the average for 2011 is forecast at $0.93 to $0.98 per pound, up from $0.90 per pound in 2010.

Table egg production up, hatching egg production lower in 2011

The forecast for first-quarter 2011 table egg production was lowered slightly to 1.62 billion dozen eggs. This is down 10 million dozen from the previous estimate, but up almost one per cent from first-quarter 2010.

The forecast for fourth-quarter 2011 was reduced by 20 million dozen to 1.67 billion but the overall 2011 production remains unchanged at 6.6 billion dozen, slightly less than one per cent more than the previous year. With broiler meat production forecast to be up only slightly in the first half of 2011 and somewhat lower in the second half, hatching egg production is forecast at 1.06 billion dozen, down 1.1 per cent from the previous year. In February, the number of hens in the table and hatching egg flocks were both lower. The number of table egg hens was down fractionally from the previous year and the number of hatching hens was down 1.4 per cent, although the number of egg-type hens in the hatching flock was up 1.5 per cent from February 2010. As with the other livestock industries, egg producers will be pressed to get product prices to a point that covers the additional production costs from higher feed prices.

Eggs prices 16 per cent lower in first quarter

The wholesale price for one dozen large eggs in the New York region averaged $1.06 in first-quarter 2011, down 16 per cent from first-quarter 2010. With the Easter holiday late in April this year, egg prices began to strengthen seasonally at the very end of March and are expected to remain strong through the first three weeks of April and then decline seasonally starting just after the Easter holiday. The late Easter holiday is expected to boost egg prices in the New York market somewhat for second-quarter 2011, and prices are expected to be $0.89 to $0.93 per dozen, compared with $0.83 per dozen for the same period in 2010.

Egg exports higher in February

In February, egg and egg product exports totaled 21.8 million dozen, 15 per cent higher than a year earlier. Shipments to Japan and Hong Kong, traditionally two of the top three export markets, were both higher than in the previous year. Shipments to Korea continue to be much stronger than the previous year and in February accounted for much of the increase in total exports. Shipments to Korea during the first two months of 2011 were 652 per cent higher than in the same period in 2010. The sharply higher exports to Korea were influenced by reductions in Korean pork supplies due to FMD-related hog culling. These gains in exports were partially offset by reduced shipments to a number of EU markets. In early 2010, egg product exports to EU markets had been exceptionally strong. A large proportion of the exports to the EU countries were likely be used by their food processing industry. While shipments to Hong Kong so far in 2011 have been higher, exports to China have fallen sharply (down 89 per cent).

Poultry Trade

Broiler shipments up in February

February broiler shipments gave the first-quarter total volume a big push in 2011. Broiler shipments in February 2011 totalled 514 million pounds, 12 per cent larger than last February. The major difference is the sizeable shipments exported to the Philippines and Korea. Shipments to the Philippines increased 102 per cent from a year ago, while shipments to Ukraine increased more than 97 per cent. Other country destinations, such as Mexico and Taiwan, play pivotal roles in the surge of broiler meat exported by the US. One of the key reasons for this surge in broiler shipments is a depreciation of the dollar. In addition to these countries, shipments to Russia were up slightly. Russia is the largest US broiler meat destination, averaging 57.6 million pounds each month over the last year. When broiler meat is shipped to Russia and the volume exceeds the monthly average shipment, US total broiler shipments are normally greater than 600 million pounds for the month.

Turkey shipments continue strong in February

Turkey shipments in February 2011 increased 36 per cent from a year earlier. A total of 53 million pounds of turkey meat were shipped, with Mexico accounting for 57 per cent (30 million pounds). China (mainland) increased its imports of US turkey meat 134 per cent. Other major turkey destinations, such as Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic and Canada, also were not strong contributors to the US expansion in turkey shipments. Of the three countries, Canada had the largest increase in shipments from last year. Turkey shipments to Hong Kong decreased 14 per cent, while shipments to the Dominican Republic decreased by 48 per cent. In February 2011, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic and Canada accounted for 78 per cent of the US total turkey shipments, which is five per cent more than the combined shipments in February 2010.


Milk production continues to advance despite high feed prices

Feed prices are expected to remain high by historic standards. Corn prices are forecast at $5.20 to $5.60 a bushel in 2010/11. Corn producers indicated intentions to plant four million acres more corn according to the Prospective Plantings report released last month. The forecast corn price is well below reported spot prices in central Illinois. This is because USDA forecasts reflect expected National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) prices received by farmers. Early season forward contracting of corn prices means the NASS farm price lags prevailing cash market prices. Soybean meal prices are forecast to average $340 to $360 a ton for 2010/2011. Soybean acreage is expected to be down slightly this spring from last year’s record. Last month’s quarterly Grain Stocks report showed corn stocks down 15 per cent from last year and soybean stocks also down by only two per cent from last year. Overall, the feed situation is likely to remain tight in 2011, keeping prices firm. The expected expanded planting of field crops could support higher alfalfa hay prices. The outcome for dairy producers is continued high feed prices.

The latest Milk Production report shows US milk cow numbers for January and February in surveyed states above the corresponding period last year, as is milk per cow. In contrast, the Livestock Slaughter report shows dairy cow slaughter continuing ahead of a year ago, and high manufactured beef prices have increased prices for cull cows. These data suggest that replacements exceed culls nationally and that freshening of the national herd continues. The US dairy herd will likely increase fractionally in 2011 to 9.165 million head, up from 9.117 million last year. Milk per cow is also forecast to rise this year, but by only a near-trend one per cent compared with a 2.8 per cent year-over-year increase last year. The small increases in herd size and milk per cow will move up production to 195.9 billion pounds of milk in 2011.

Milk equivalent imports are forecast at 3.7 billion pounds for the year on a fats basis and 4.8 billion pounds on a skims-solids basis. Imports on a skims-solids basis are virtually unchanged from 2010. Milk equivalent exports on a fats basis are forecast to total seven billion pounds for 2011; this is a decline from 2010’s totals but the April 2011 forecast was increased from the March forecast based on stronger than expected exports of butterfat and cheese. Milk equivalent exports on a skims-solids basis are forecast at 31.3 billion pounds, a small decline from 2010. The April skims-solids export forecast was increased from the March forecast due to the high level of non-fat dry milk (NDM) shipments registered in January. For the second half of 2011, exports may weaken relative to the first half as increased competition from Oceania is expected to erode the competitive US position. Nevertheless, the relative weakness of the US dollar and strong global demand will help maintain exports at a strong pace.

Domestic commercial use is expected to rise on both a fats and skims-solids basis in 2011. Expected continued economic recovery underpins the forecasts. Commercial use on a fats basis is forecast to rise by nearly 1.8 per cent in 2011 over 2010, the strongest year-over-year rise since 2006. Skims-solids commercial use is set to rise by 2.7 per cent in 2011 after falling by an equal amount in 2010, making skim-solids commercial use in 2011 the same as in 2009.

Major dairy product prices are expected to go higher in 2011 compared with 2010 but 2011 price forecasts for cheese and butter were revised downward this month from the March forecast. Both cheese and butter prices have weakened recently, and cheese stocks have been relatively high. NDM prices are virtually unchanged from last month’s forecast, based on expected continued strong exports. Cheese prices are forecast to average $1.665 to $1.715 per pound for the year, and NDM prices are projected to average $1.375 to $1.415 per pound. The butter price is expected to average $1.735 to $1.815 per pound for the year. Whey prices are forecast to average 41.0 to 44.0 cents per pound. High NDM prices may be providing some support for whey prices. Milk price forecasts will be higher this year than last but the Class III price forecast was lowered slightly this month from March projections. The Class IV price, raised fractionally from last month based on stronger NDM prices, is estimated to average $17.05 to $17.65 per cwt. This will average above the Class III price, which is expected to average $16.10 to $16.60 per cwt. The all milk price is forecast to average $18.15 to $18.65 per cwt in 2011.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

April 2011

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