USDA released a number of cattle reports Friday, including updates on inventory, production and slaughter.
And it appears any lingering concerns of local meat shortages due to previous COVID-19 related packing plant shutdowns are in the rearview mirror.
USDA’s biannual survey of farmers found all cattle and calves in the U.S. total 103 million head as of July 1, up slightly from 102.9 million last year.
All cows and heifers that calved total 41.4 million, down slightly from 41.6 million last year, while USDA estimates the 2020 calf crop at 35.8 million head, down 1% from a year ago.
“The biannual survey showed the nation’s beef cow numbers 0.8% under last year,” said Rich Nelson, director of research at Allendale, Inc. “We’ve stopped five straight years of expansion on the beef cow side, but these numbers imply not much of a drop from previous years.”
USDA’s monthly cattle on feed report pegged the inventory for the slaughter market at 11.43 million head as of July 1, down slightly from last year but still the second-highest June inventory on record since the statistical series began in 1996.
Meanwhile, placements in feedlots in June totaled 1.8 million head, up 2.1%.
“Placements in June were up 2.1%, but the trade expected 3% or higher. You can call this slightly positive,” Nelson said. “But it’s not going to change the fact we still have a good shortfall lined up in September, October and November from previous low placements. It will give us a chance to deal with the market cattle backlog.”
Marketings of fed cattle increased 1% last month to 1.97 million head.
Overall, cattle slaughter declined 4.4% the first half of the year due to temporary packing plant shutdowns. But beef production slipped just 1.9% during the same time due to heavier weights. Total red meat production totaled 4.8 billion pounds in June, up 9.6% from last year, as the industry roared back from COVID-related issues.
In other cattle industry news last week, USDA updated its ongoing investigation into the record spread between boxed beef and fed cattle prices following the 2019 Tyson beef plant closure due to fire, and more recently, temporary plant shutdowns during the pandemic.
USDA maintains several policy considerations in light of the desire by many market participants for improved price discovery, reinvigorated competition and a more transparent relationship between the prices for live cattle and the resulting products. Considerations include potential updates to Livestock Mandatory Reporting to reduce instances of nonreporting and increase percentages of negotiated cash transactions.
“The report examines these economic disruptions and significant increase in the spread between boxed beef and fed cattle prices that resulted from them,” said Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue. “While we’re pleased to provide this update, we assure producers that our work continues to determine if there are any violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act.”