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News and views on stocker segment issues from BEEF magazine.
November 7, 2006 A Prism Business Media Publication
Corn Hits 10-year High

U.S. Beef Back To South Korea

Hay Production Down

So Long Cheap Feed?

BEEF Quality Summit Is Almost Here

Other Upcoming Events

Corn Cost Chops Feeder & Calf Prices

Questions & Comments

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Corn Hits 10-year High
It wasn't unexpected but it was still significant when December corn futures closed last Thursday at $3.44/bu., the highest level in 10 years. At the end of the week, it had dropped a couple of cents. Depending on how you bet on the crop report to be released this week, that recent high may merely be a plateau before surging on ahead.

"Cash grain prices were up 25% during the month of October and are now twice year-ago price levels," say reporters for USDA's Ag Marketing Service. "It's not that there's a shortage of America's favorite cattle feed; estimates are projecting this year's crop to be the third-largest in history. Chicago Board of Trade corn contracts are selling on excitement from the growing ethanol industry and an increase in export demand. Speculators have jumped on the bandwagon and are said to hold an estimated net-long futures position greater than 250,000 contracts. Cattle feeders can only watch in disbelief as they continuously refigure their projected cost-of-gains."

True enough, but there's also the fundamental reality of the lowest estimated ending stocks in three decades occurring in tandem with burgeoning demand.

Steep increases in corn price are certainly taking their toll on feeder and calf prices (see Markets below)

U.S. Beef Back To South Korea
The first U.S. beef in almost three years made its way inside South Korea last Tuesday. Though trade has been open for a couple of months, U.S. packers have been understandably skittish about sending beef to a country that maintains a zero-tolerance policy concerning bone fragments. Hopefully this first nine tons will be the trickle that cracks the dike.


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Weather And Crops
Hay Production Down
Feed it if you've got it, or better yet, sell it if you can! Hay that is.

According to the Oct. 19 "Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook" from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), hay production is estimated at 147 million tons this year, down 2.4% from last year; May 1 hay stocks were down 23% from a year ago.

Consequently, explain ERS analysts, "Hay supplies are likely to be fairly tight and expensive for this winter, particularly if a more normal winter pattern develops following the mild winter last year."

According to ERS, the September farm price of other hay averaged $93/ton, up from $78.90 a year ago. Alfalfa hay prices averaged $112/ ton, up from $106. Depending on where you live, you've been paying lots higher prices to make for such a low average.

Other hay production is forecast to be down 3% from 2005. Alfalfa hay production is estimated at 2% less.

On a happier note, ERS says pasture conditions continue a modest recovery, though favorable temperatures and moisture are still needed to accumulate much-needed growth for winter grazing.

Plus, rains in recent weeks, along with improved soil moisture, are making wheat pasture look more promising.

For the week ending Oct. 29, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS):
  • Corn -- 68% is harvested, which is 10% behind last year and 3% behind the five-year average. In the Northern Plains and adjacent areas of the Corn Belt, harvest progressed rapidly under mostly dry conditions, advancing 29 points in Minnesota, 25 points in North Dakota, and 23 points in South Dakota.
  • Soybeans -- Growers have harvested 83% of the crop, compared to 91% at this time last year and 85% for the average. Harvest was complete in Mississippi and nearly complete in Louisiana, Minnesota and the Dakotas, but trailed behind normal across most of the Corn Belt. As with corn, producers in the eastern Corn Belt were well behind normal due to soggy fields.
  • Winter Wheat -- 91% of the crop is sown, 1% less than the same time last year but the same as normal. 73% of the crop has emerged, 2% behind last year, and 3% behind the normal pace. 60% is rated good or excellent, compared to 61% at the same time last year.
  • Sorghum -- 90% is mature, compared to 86% last year and 87% for average. In the two largest producing states, Kansas and Texas, progress trailed 5 and 3 points behind normal, respectively. 59% has been harvested, compared to 69% last year and 69% for average.
  • Pasture -- 28% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 29% last year. 22% is rated Poor and 17% is ranked Very Poor, compared to 21% and 16% respectively at the same time last year.
States with the worst pasture conditions -- at least 40% of the acreage rated poor or worse -- include: Alabama (50%); California (84%); Florida (50%); Kansas (46%); Missouri (56%); Nebraska (45%); Nevada (40%); North Dakota (50%); Oklahoma (58%); Oregon (55%); South Dakota (44%); Texas (54%); and Wyoming (63%).

States where pasture conditions are best -- at least 40% rated good or better -- include: Arizona (52%); Idaho (40%); Illinois (54%); Indiana (67%); Iowa (48%); Kentucky (73%); Maine (75%); Maryland (53%); Michigan (50%); New Mexico (62%); New York (40%); North Carolina (65%); Ohio (68%); Pennsylvania (56%); South Carolina (55%); Tennessee (42%); Utah (56%); Virginia (62%); Washington (41%); West Virginia (55%); and Wisconsin (46%).

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Stocker Economics
So Long Cheap Feed?
"The era of cheap feed is probably over for years to come," says Chris Hurt, Purdue University Extension economist. In the Oct. 23 "Weekly Outlook," he explains, "Over the past eight crop years from 1998 to 2005, U.S. corn prices averaged just $2.05/bu. Historically, the cattle industry has been the animal segment that makes the biggest adjustments to high-priced feed, and that will likely be the case this time as well. The recent decline in calf prices represents a potential for $1.9 billion in lower annual returns for cow-calf operations. Excess capacity in feedlots will be costly as well. However, learning to feed distillers' grains at much higher inclusion rates remains the opportunity."

Similarly, Darrell Mark, University of Nebraska-Lincoln ag economist, offered this perspective Oct. 23: "In recent months, we've seen yearling placements decline relative to year-ago levels due to short supplies of heavier feeder cattle outside of feed yards (they were placed earlier in the year)."

He says the continued increase in lightweight calf placements in recent months are a result of at least three factors.
  • Drought-stressed pastures in the Northern Plains and West likely prompted early weaning.
  • Feeder-calf prices have declined at least 8% (basis Nebraska) in the past month due to softer fed-cattle prices and much higher corn prices. Given the outlook for fed-cattle and corn prices, feeder-cattle prices may not improve, so some producers are taking advantage of current prices that are still relatively good by selling calves now.
  • Cattle feeders may be trying to take advantage of feedstuffs cheaper than corn in some local markets and that are more suitable for growing-calf rations than for finishing diets. For example, placements in South Dakota were up 25% in September. Hay prices are $50-$75/ton less than in Texas where placements dropped 10%.
"Clearly, the rapid rise in the corn market of nearly $1/bu. in the past month (basis Omaha) negatively impacts feeding margins," Mark writes, adding that the change in corn prices boosts breakevens for finishing by about $4-6/cwt.

Mark's complete comments are available at You can read more of Hurt's comments at

BEEF Quality Summit Is Almost Here
Sign up now at for BEEF magazine's 2006 BEEF Quality Summit. The Nov. 14-15 workshop in Oklahoma City's Clarion Hotel aims to provide attendees with the background, tools and the environment to make the connections for involvement, and the potential rewards offered, in the new beef-value chain.

The first day's program is devoted to outlining the opportunity available in the new beef-value chain, the second to how to link your production into that chain. Among the topics to be discussed are:
  • How U.S. beef consumers define quality.
  • Quality, profit and the cattle cycle.
  • International competition and opportunities for U.S. quality beef.
  • Current international beef trade opportunities.
  • Producers will discuss how they're paid for quality.
  • Selecting a marketing partner.
  • Evaluating costs, trade-offs and risks of various markets
  • Linking up with a marketing partner -- an opportunity to meet with participating marketing channel reps.
For more detail, visit and click on the "BEEF Quality Summit" box in the top right corner of the opening page.

Other Upcoming Events
Feb. 13-14 -- Mid-South Stocker Conference, Cave City, KY, presented by the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee. For more info, visit You can also contact Jim Neel at 865-974-7294 or; John Bartee at 931-648-5725 or; or John T. Johns at 859-257-2853 or

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Corn Cost Chops Feeder & Calf Prices
Compared to last week, yearling feeder cattle sold steady to $3/cwt. lower in a light test, while steer and heifer calves traded weak to $6/cwt. lower, say reporters for USDA's Ag Marketing Service (AMS). Plus, they point out this trend was primarily established before Thursday's sharp losses in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Feeder Cattle futures.

Direct fed-cattle prices were steady to $1 lower at $88-$89.50; dressed sales were $3 lower, from $137 to mostly $138.

"Nationwide, auction receipts are running lighter than last year and larger-scale producers continue to hold cattle while resisting country and video bids," explain the AMS folks. "Cattle sellers have yet to embrace a significantly lower feeder-cattle market, but tighter availability has yet to improve demand. However, buying interest continues to be fairly good for yearling offerings (albeit at lower price levels) while calves are finding narrow outlets, with the exception of lightweights weighing under 500 lbs."

The summary below reflects the week ended Nov. 3 for Medium and Large 1 -- 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb., and 700- to 750-lb. feeder heifers and steers (unless otherwise noted). The list is arranged in descending order by auction volume and represents sales reported in the weekly USDA National Feeder and Stocker Cattle Summary:

Summary Table
State Volume Steers Heifers
Calf Weight 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs. 500-550 lbs. 600-650 lbs. 700-750 lbs.
Dakotas 41,000
South Dakota
North Dakota






OK 38,700 $118.73 $108.39 $107.79 $104.20 $97.53 $100.75
MO 35,700 $117.48 $108.31 $110.40 $105.50 $105.71 $101.49
TX 28,200 $115.01 $103.13 $101.05 $1086.61 $94.30 $98.01
KY* 26,200 $111-121 $103-108 $97-1025 $100-110 $93-102.503 $89-995
NE 25,100 $124.11 $115.62 $111.74 $111.90 $104.524 $106.34
KS 14,500 $127.13 $112.82 $106.87 $113.21 $105.33 $99.27
AL 14,200 $109-114 $94-100 $92-1984 $196-106 $90-96 $81-875
AR 13,800 $109.91 $104.03 $195.38 $98.26 $94.35 $87.39
CO 10,400 $117.68 $105.11 ** $106.92 $104.702 **
TN* 10,300 $1073.72 $95.78 $91.49 $94.02 $89.99 $837.19
NM 10,100 $117.63 $108.95 $98.93 $100.77 $100.452 $94.86
FL* 9,900 $92-116 $86-101 $84-934 $92-102.50 $80-86 $75-874
MT 8,700 $115.02 $109.552 ** $104.56 $100.562 **
GA*(***) 8,500 $93-113 $87-99 $83-91 $80-110 $78-103 $77-984
WY 8,100 $122.50 $112.502 $110.666 $104.13 $101.952 $96.926
MS* 7,700 $95-1051 $90-1003 $80-90 $90-1001 $80-903 $70-805
IA 7,600 $117.65 $111.06 $108.69 $102.57 $99.08 $101.80
LA(ND) 7,300 $94-108 $88-1122 ** $89-105 $84-1002 **
Carolinas* 6,500 $90-115 $84-1033 $82-925 $80-95 $70-893 $68-845
WA* 3,500 $104.67 $101.09 $95.35 $103.15 $93.62 $91.184
VA 2,400 $106.172 $99.80 $101.29 $94.662 $88.29 **

* Plus 2
** None reported at this weight or near weight
(***) Steers and bulls
NDNo Description
1500-600 lbs.
2550-600 lbs.
3600-700 lbs.
4650-700 lbs.
5700-800 lbs.
6750-800 lbs.
7800-850 lbs.


Questions & Comments
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