Source: Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service
Cow prices, while historically strong, have been below last year’s record high levels for much of 2013. There are several reasons for the lower prices. Total cow slaughter was up 3.4% in the first half of 2013 compared to the previous year. In 2012, the meat industry was utilizing less trim from slaughter steers and heifers due to the lean fine textured beef media event. So, prices for 90% lean wholesale boneless beef from cows were record high in the first half of 2012. Higher beef imports in the first part of 2013 from drought impacted New Zealand also tempered cow prices.
So far this year beef cow slaughter was up just under 3.4% while dairy cow slaughter was up over 3.4%. Beef cow slaughter actually declined about 10% in January and February but then increased about 12% compared to last year since then. The lingering drought in the Western U.S., above average calving losses due to severe spring snow storms in the Northern Plains, and record high hay prices likely contributed to the higher beef cow slaughter.
Dairy cow slaughter has been above last year’s levels for most of 2013. High feed costs and the closing of a Canadian cow slaughter plan have contributed to the higher slaughter. Through June 22, imports of cows from Canada totaled 147,785 head compared to 72,374 for the same period last year.
Through April, U.S. beef imports were 3.4% above 2012 due to a 35% increase in shipments of beef from drought impacted New Zealand. Australia is usually the leading beef supplier, but New Zealand is leading the way in 2013. Beef imports from all other countries including Australia were actually down 6% with Australian imports down almost 10%. Rains in New Zealand in late April and into May reduced dairy herd liquidation and beef exports there. May beef imports from New Zealand fell below last year and lead to total beef imports from all countries through May at 1% below 2012.
Cow prices in the second half of 2013 will continue to be impacted by weather and its effect on pasture and range conditions and hay supplies and prices. Moisture conditions are much better than last year in the Eastern half of the U.S., but the West remains very dry. For the week ending July 6, 49% of U.S. pastures and ranges were rated good and excellent compared to just 21% last year. Twenty seven percent of pastures and ranges were poor and very poor compared to 50% last year.
USDA-NASS reported average U.S. alfalfa hay prices for June at $220 per ton, down from $221 in May but up from the $201 last year in June. Other hay prices for June were reported at $147, down from $154 in May and $162 in April but higher than the $133 in June 2012. Other hay in June ranged from a low price of $84/ton in North Dakota to a high of $230 in both Colorado and Washington.