Beef Demand Continues Strong

The following meat market update was 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. Edited by Mid-West Farm Report.

Cattle

Beef demand continues to be strong. Consumers may be changing what they buy, however. The average retail price of beef was $8.08/pound in February. That was unchanged from January and 6.5% higher than a year ago. Beef prices are 34% higher than the 2019 average. While many whole-muscle cut prices remain steady, ground beef prices were 2% higher in February than the previous month.

Weekly net beef exports for the period of March 8–14 totaled 11,000 metric tons – a marketing year low and 12% below the four-week average. As exports lag, strong domestic demand will be needed to hold current price levels.

Wholesale beef prices were higher overall last week. The Choice beef cutout was $4.46 higher to average $310.89. Harvest pace started slow last week but ended 18,000 head higher than the previous week at 601,000. That was 27,000 head below a year ago. Packers are having challenges finding market-ready cattle, and that is a trend that will continue.

A Cattle on Feed report will be released Friday. Feeder cattle availability is also tightening. There are reports of dairy beef cross calves bringing $1,000 at some auction markets. Cash fed cattle prices were higher last week and steady to higher this week. There were very few negotiated sales through mid-week. 

Cattle Prices

Fed cattle prices are steady and strong this week at Wisconsin and surrounding state auction markets. High Choice and Prime beef breed steers and heifers brought $172 to $180/cwt, with some to $190/cwt. Choice steers and heifers ranged from $163 to $172/cwt with mixed grading and those likely to grade Select bringing $153 to $163/cwt. Holstein steers were steady to higher. High grading steers brought $154 to $164/cwt with reports of some from $165 to $169/cwt. Lower grading steers brought $126 to $153. Silage fed, under finished, or heavy dairy breed steers brought $75 to $125/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were steady, bringing $128 to $177/cwt, with some to $180.

Cows were $2 to $4 higher. The bulk of the cows brought $90 to $117/cwt with some fleshier dairy and beef cows selling to the high $120s/cwt. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $90/cwt and down.

Dairy breed bull calves were steady with high quality calves higher. Most brought $200 to $400/head with some heavier, well-managed calves selling to $720. Beef and Beef Cross calves were higher, selling up to $850 with a few to $1,000/head.

Hogs

Market hog prices were called 50 cents higher last week and were higher again to start this week. The improvement in the market is needed. Iowa State University calculated the average loss for a farrow to finish operation in 2023 at $32 per head, the largest annual loss since they began reporting. Iowa State calculated a loss of $41.08 per head in January of this year and $24.25 in February.

Last week’s estimated harvest of 2.471 million was 15,000 head more than the previous week and 24,000 less than the same week last year. It is the second consecutive week of harvest totals less than a year ago. The average retail price of pork in February was $4.76/pound, and that was unchanged from January and 1 cent less than last year. Retail pork prices are 24% higher than the 2019 average. Net pork export sales of 33,800 metric tons were up 36 percent from the previous week and 10 percent from the prior four-week average.

Lamb

Cash lamb prices continue to trend higher. Traditional lambs were called $3 to $7/cwt higher last week nationally with light lambs selling steady to higher as well. Wholesale lamb prices were lower, however. Last week’s harvest estimate was 40,000 sheep and lambs, making it 1,000 less than the previous week and 1,000 more than a year ago. It was the fourth consecutive week of harvest totals at or above 40,000. The National Retail report for March 15–21 showed a drop in lamb features and activity. It will be worth monitoring retail activity leading up to the Easter holiday. Market lambs were mixed at $155 to $212/cwt, and a few to $220.