Reality Not Meeting Expectations

The following report 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.

The major grilling holidays are ahead of us, yet expectations for higher wholesale beef prices have not materialized. The Choice beef cutout value was $2.40 lower last week to average $306.63 and trended lower this week. The retail price of beef averaged $7.85/pound in April, making it 2.8% higher than March and 1.5% higher than April of last year. It is still 25% higher than April of 2019. The Consumer Sentiment Index dropped by 9.1% this month over worries about the economy. This calls into question what consumers will be putting on the grill this summer. Harvest last week was estimated at 646,000 head, making it 23,000 more than the previous week and 5,000 less than the same week last year. Harvest by head is 3.1% below 2022 year-to-date and 4.7 lower when measured by production. Beef breed steer weights are 11 pounds lighter than a year ago, while heifer weights have dropped by five pounds.

There are reports that packers are actively looking for hogs. Last week’s estimated harvest of 2.375 million was 72,000 hogs less than the previous week and 12,000 more than the same week last year. Lower sow prices indicate an increase in sows coming to market, so the number of market-ready butcher hogs may be tightening more than the harvest estimate shows. Hog harvest year-to-date is running 1.5% ahead of 2022. The pork cutout value strengthened last week with an increase of $1.56 to average $82.48. The average retail price for pork in April was $4.73, .06% lower than March. Like beef, pork prices are 25% higher than April of 2019. Pork producers are welcoming the prospect of lower corn prices. Lower corn exports and larger than anticipated carryout of old crop have caused prices to decrease. The Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold California’s Proposition 12 last week was the major pork headline. 

All classes of lambs sold lower last week. Retailers are dedicating more ad space for Racks, Loin Chops, and Shoulder Blade Chops. The lamb carcass cutout was lower last week, although it has been maintaining above the $520 level. Last week’s estimated harvest was 35,000 sheep and lambs, and that was even with the prior week and 3,000 more than the same week last year. Live weights are increasing but are still running 10 pounds lower than this time last year. Sheep and lamb harvest year-to-date is 6.4% higher than last year while lamb production is outpacing 2022 by 2.1%.

For the week ending May 14, corn planting in Wisconsin was 33% complete. That is a day ahead of last year but four days behind the average. Iowa corn is 86% planted, with Illinois at 84% and Minnesota 61%. Just 34% of the nation’s pasture and range conditions were rated Good to Excellent according to the latest Crop Progress report. Wisconsin pastures were rated 62% Good to Excellent. In our neighboring states, 76% of Illinois pasture was rated Good to Excellent, with Michigan at 66%, Iowa 53% and Minnesota 52%.

High-yielding, high-grading cattle were fully steady this week. Cattle with overnight stands and well managed cattle were seeing strong demand. Beef breed fed cattle sold from $140 to $173/cwt. Groups of high Choice and Prime steers and heifers brought up to $182/cwt with a few above. The Holstein steer market was higher again this week, ranging from $120 to $152/cwt with the top end bringing $152 to $156. Silage fed, under finished or heavy dairy breed steers brought $74 to $120/cwt. Dairy x Beef steers were bringing $115 to $170 cwt. Cows were $2 to $3 higher. A bulk of the cows brought $72 to $100/cwt with fleshier cows selling to $112 and above. Doubtful health and thin cows were bringing $72/cwt and down. Dairy breed bull calves were steady, bringing $100 to $250/cwt with some heavier, well cared for calves selling to $300. Beef and Beef Cross calves were selling to $550/cwt. Market lambs were mixed, bringing $130 to $160/cwt. with a few higher. Light lambs were mixed and sold to $240/cwt.