Slaughter cattle prices declined dramatically last week, with cattle Southern Plains trading at $71, $3 per hundredweight below the prior week. Boxed beef cutout values also fell considerably, losing nearly $4 per hundredweight over the course of the week.

Kansas State University Extension Economist James Mintert says report that some cattle at a Holton, Kansas auction facility were being tested for foot and mouth disease (FMD) led to a sharp decline in live cattle futures on March 13th. The price decline continued on the 14th and 15th and a surprisingly large February placement estimate on USDA's March Cattle on Feed report helped extend the futures price decline into the following week.

Through late March, Dr. Mintert notes, Kansas slaughter steer prices in 2002 averaged $70.72 per hundredweight, 11 percent lower than a year ago, while USDA's estimate of the light Choice cutout value averaged $117.65, 9 percent below 2001's.

Beef production was larger than last year throughout the first quarter of 2002, Dr. Mintert says. Both cattle slaughter and weights were above a year ago, through mid-February. But cattle slaughter dropped below a year ago in late February and averaged 1.6 percent below a year ago the first three weeks of March. Unfortunately, the modest slaughter decline was more than offset by heavy marketing weights. Dressed steer weights during February averaged 818 pounds, 3.9 percent heavier than a year ago. Steer weights declined to 808 pounds in early March, but were still 3.5 percent above 2001's. So, despite the recent year-to-year decline in cattle slaughter, beef production during the first three weeks of March averaged 3.6 percent above last year and, from January through late March, averaged 4.5 percent above a year ago. To read Dr. Mintert’s complete outlook report, go to: