U.S. beef exports were down 6.6% in March. It was the sixth consecutive month with exports lower than last year. The biggest declines were in shipments to Mexico and to Hong Kong. U.S. beef imports were up 33.3% in March. This was the 13th consecutive month with imports above the year-earlier level. At 325 million pounds, March beef imports were the highest of any month since July 2005. During March, 9.59% of U.S. beef production was exported and imports equaled 16.83% of U.S. production. High U.S. beef prices and a strong dollar are the two main causes of the disappointing trade numbers.

Cattle imports during March were down a slight 0.2% from a year ago with imports from Mexico up 16.0% and imports from Canada down 13.3%.

Domestic meat demand has been strong in recent months, but export demand is weak. Domestic beef demand was up 7.3% in March. It was up for the 14th consecutive month. Export demand was down 5.7%.

USDA rated 53% of pastures in the 48 contiguous states as being in good or excellent condition on May 3. That is up from 39% good and excellent a year ago.

Fed cattle prices this week were a bit higher on moderate volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $159.77/cwt, up 60 cents from last week's average and up $9.75 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price this week for steers was $255.04/cwt, up $1.14 for the week and up $18.99 compared to the same week last year.

This morning the choice boxed beef cutout value was $258.2/cwt, up $3.70 from the previous Friday and up $34.31 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $246.80/cwt this morning, up $4.42 from last week and up $33.63 from a year ago.

Cattle slaughter this week totaled 567,000 head, up 0.2% from the week before, but down 5.5% from the same week last year. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is down 7.3% and beef production is down 5.0%. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on April 25 was 866 pounds, down 6 pounds from the week before, but up 25 pounds compared to the same week last year.

Feeder cattle prices at Oklahoma City were mostly steady to $4 higher this week. Prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $310-$330, 450-500# $279-$302, 500-550# $277-$291, 550-600# $263-$285, 600-650# $230-$262, 650-700# $219-$245, 700-750# $223-$234, 750-800# $210-$221.85, 800-900# $194-$216.25, and 900-1000#, $179.50-$198.50/cwt.

Cattle futures rallied this week. The June live cattle futures contract settled at $151.50/cwt today, up $2.33 for the week. August fed cattle settled at $149.82/cwt, up $2.00 from the previous week. October fed cattle gained $1.60 this week to settle at $151.20/cwt. The May feeder cattle contract ended the week at $215.87/cwt, up $2.25 for the week.