Smaller numbers of cattle marketed at lighter weights during the first six months of the year, resulting in generally strong prices compared with the same period last year. Federally inspected cattle slaughter declined by more than 4 percent compared with one year ago, average carcass weights were 1.2 percent lighter and total beef production fell by 5.2 percent, according to Iowa State University Economist John Lawrence (table 1).

Several factors have influenced market trends this year. Cattle numbers are on the down side of the population cycle, while beef demand has improved considerably. Higher market prices have encouraged cattle feeders to market their animals on a timely basis, resulting in lower average carcass weights and further reductions in total beef production.

Beef production in the United States probably would have dropped even further if not for imports. Higher U.S. cattle prices plus the strength of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies have encouraged imports. During the January through April time period, imports of cattle into the United States increased by more than 23 percent compared with the same period last year. Exports of cattle during the same period declined slightly (table 2).

Overall, U.S. retail beef prices averaged almost 12 percent higher during January through May, compared with one year earlier.

Table 1. Slaughter and Production Data, January–June.

Cattle Slaughter (1,000 head) 2001 2000 01/00 (%)
Federally inspected cattle slaughter 17,240 17,969 95.9
Steers 8,462 8,976 94.3
Heifers 5,651 5,999 94.2
Total Cows 2,820 2,683 105.1
Dairy cows 1,328 1,309 101.5
Beef cows 1,492 1,374 108.6
Production (1,000 lbs) 1,2532.5 1,3220.3 94.8
Avg Carcass wt 726.9 735.7 98.8

Source: Iowa State University

Table 2. Trade Data, January–April.

Beef/Cattle Trade 2001 2000 01/00 (%)
Beef Imports (1,000 lbs) 1,065,976 988,257 107.9
Beef Exports (1,000 lbs) 730,382 838,962 87.1
Net Imports 335,594 149,295 224.8
Cattle Imports (head) 963,108 781,470 123.2
Cattle Exports (head) 131,227 133,006 98.7
Net Imports 831,881 48,464 128.3

Source: Iowa State University