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News and views on stocker segment issues from BEEF magazine.
June 26, 2007 A Penton Media Publication

ISSUE CONTENTS
Packers, Retailers Stoke The Heat On COOL

Tyson Quits Antibiotics In Chicken

July Hay Cutting Adds Tons

Making Stockers COOL-Compliant

Corn on Track -- Drought Deepens For West-Southeast

Yearling Prices Continue To Counter Fed Market

Questions & Comments


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News
Packers, Retailers Stoke The Heat On COOL
Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) isn't supposed to go into effect until September 2008, but one of the nation's largest trade organizations representing meat processors -- American Meat Institute (AMI) -- sent letters last week to 97 producer organizations advising them that their members may soon hear from meatpackers about what they will require of their suppliers as part of mandatory COOL.

"Although we adamantly oppose mandatory COOL, it is the law and it is our job as the meat industry's trade association to help companies prepare for full implementation," explains Mark Dopp, AMI cenior vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel. "Given the fact that animals born now will be subject to mandatory COOL, we thought it was wise to begin preparing."

In its letter to producer groups, AMI told its members that, in order to comply with the law and satisfy retail customers, packers should demand a number of things from livestock producers. This includes verified documentation of where the livestock purchased were born and raised, and an affidavit or declaration with each load of livestock purchases stating that there's a verifiable audit trail in place that identifies where the livestock in each load were born and raised.

AMI also advised its members to ask producers to provide access to records so that the packer can perform audits as necessary to satisfy its retail customers and to indemnify the packer for liability should inaccurate information be provided to the packer.

Meanwhile, the Food Marketing Institute, which represents retailers, sent a similar letter to producer groups, as well.

Interestingly, this all came after R-CALF was harping on AMI's stance in opposition to COOL as costly and unwieldy.

In a statement following the receipt of AMI's letter, officials with the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) explained their organization, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), and other livestock groups have repeatedly warned Congress of the costs and record-keeping requirements mandatory COOL will create for cow-calf producers and other segments of the beef industry. The organizations continue to lobby for changes in the legislation that would ease the burden on beef producers.

According to KLA, less than 10% of imported beef is estimated to sell at retail, and thus subject to mandatory labeling. The vast majority of imported beef goes into restaurants, which are exempt from the law. Yet, it was worries about imports that prompted some groups to ask for the law.


Tyson Quits Antibiotics In Chicken
It's only chicken, but you have to wonder what Tyson's decision to ban antibiotics in its fresh branded fowl meat may ultimately mean to the cattle industry.

"While we have great confidence in the quality of our traditional chicken, we're also committed to providing mainstream consumers with the kind of products they want," says Richard L. Bond, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. "According to our research, 91% of consumers agree it's important to have fresh chicken produced and labeled, 'raised without antibiotics.'"

According to Tyson officials, the company uses therapeutic antibiotics in only a very small percentage of its poultry flocks and only to treat or prevent disease. Tyson will continue to use antibiotics on its birds when necessary and only for therapeutic reasons.

Tyson began marketing the product as, "100% all-natural -- Raised without antibiotics" last week.



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Stocker Management
July Hay Cutting Adds Tons
When it comes to native grass, early July is the optimum time for cutting, based on research from Kansas State University (KSU). That's according to a recent column from Glenn Selk at Oklahoma State University.

The KSU researchers harvested native grass meadows in early June, July, August and September. According to Selk, the June date produced about half as much tonnage as the early August cutting, while the September cutting had little nutritional value, between quality and digestibility. Compared to July though (2,400 lbs. of dry matter forage/acre), the August cutting was heavier (2,800 lbs.). But, with more crude protein (CP) -- about 7% vs. 3% for August -- the July harvest yielded more total digestible nutrients (TDN).

"As the calculations of amount of hay and quality are combined, we learn that the earlier-cut hay produced about 168 lbs. of CP/acre and the later-cut hay produced only 84 lbs. of CP/acre," Selk explains. "Assuming typical TDN content for these hays, we would expect to find about 55% TDN in the July hay and 46% TDN in the August hay." The July cutting produced about 1,320 lbs. of TDN/acre and the August hay produced 1,288 lbs. of TDN/acre.

"Even though the producer hauled more tonnage from the field to the storage area and back out to the cattle with the later-cut hay, he moved considerably fewer nutrients than he would have if the hay had been cut one month earlier," Selk says.


Making Stockers COOL-Compliant
Up front, the final country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule -- scheduled to become mandatory in September 2008 -- hasn't been published. You might remember the law making it mandatory was part of the current farm bill and was originally slated to become mandatory in September 2004.

However, with trade groups advising their processor and retailer members to begin demanding the necessary information from producers (including a request for indemnification, according to one such letter), it makes sense to think about how you might comply. The last time COOL seemed imminent we put together a stocker fact sheet (you can find it at www.beefstockerusa.org), which still seems appropriate.

For instance, if you're supposed to be able to tell someone what cattle you had, you need to be able to identify them. Until the final rule is written, we can only conjecture that a compliant identification (ID) and verification system could be as simple as brand certificates and tax inventory records or a pocket notebook with individual tag numbers and descriptions, or as elaborate as electronic ID with up-loadable purchase, sales and performance information.

Logic suggests your inventory records ought to verify that you had the cattle you said you had. The question revolves around having the necessary documentation proving specific cattle came to you with documentation verifying their source.

Common sense also says the kind of documentation described above should verify either the country of origin or at least the point of last origin. If USDA can trace stocker back to the order buyer, say, one would think verifying the origin from that point would be that buyer's responsibility.

Of course, there's nothing to keep stockers from demanding COOL affidavits as a condition of purchase from their suppliers.

As you ponder all of that, it also continues to seem rational to believe that the premiums associated with ID-enabled verifications of source, age and all of the rest are still meager and irregular enough that the cost of establishing a new ID system should be weighed against what animal ID can garner you -- management and market access.

Incidentally you can also find stocker fact sheets about what to consider in an ID system and how to make sense of Quality Systems Assurance (QSA) and Process Verified Programs (PVP) at (www.beefstockerusa.org.)

This is obviously a different world than when the COOL debacle first began. These days the industry has the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Keep in mind the COOL law prohibits USDA from devising a standardized system of ID for COOL. Too, there's no question more cattle should qualify these days thanks to the PVPs and QSAs borne out of qualifying cattle for export markets following the discovery of BSE here.

Still, the gap between reality and what COOL demands seems like a stretch.



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Weather And Crops
Corn on Track -- Drought Deepens For West-Southeast
"For the most part, this year's corn crop appears to be coming along nicely but the bullish wheat market has supported all the grains," say analysts for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). "Wheat harvest yields across the Southern Plains continue to be disappointing and wet conditions are hampering progress. On the other hand, grass pastures from Texas up through South Dakota are the best in recent memory, a stark contrast to last year."

Indeed, on a national basis, pasture conditions are significantly better than a year ago, with half of the nation's pasture rated as Good or Excellent, compared to 38% at the same time last year.

Ironically, about the same percentage of the nation -- approximately one-third -- is currently experiencing drought, the same as last year, according to Mike Hayes at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

What's changed, of course, is the location, with the Southeast, Southwest and West bearing the worst of it.

For the record, Hayes says the worst nationwide drought period in modern history occurred in 1934-1936 -- the Dust Bowl years when 70% of the nation was experiencing severe or extreme drought. During the worst recent years -- 2000, 2002 and 2006 -- Hayes says about 40% of the nation was experiencing the same level of drought.

What's more, Hayes explains scientists who analyze tree rings to gather historical climatic data say it appears the drought in the 1930s was normal by historical standards.

For the week ending June 5, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service:
  • Corn -- 70% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 77% last week and 70% at the same time last year.


  • Soybeans -- 96% is in the ground, 1% behind last year, but 2% ahead of normal. 92% has emerged, which is 1% ahead of last year and 5% ahead of the five-year average. 65% is rated Good or better, which is 2% behind last year.


  • Winter Wheat -- 97% advanced to the heading stage, 1% behind last year, but 2% ahead of average. 11% has been harvested, 23% behind last year and 9% behind the average. 50% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 29% a year earlier.


  • Spring Wheat -- 11% of the crop has reached the heading stage, which is 8% behind last year and 1% ahead of the five-year average. 85% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 60% a year ago.


  • Barley -- 13% has emerged, the same as last year and 3% ahead of normal. 81% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 74% a year ago.


  • Sorghum -- 82% of the intended acreage is sown, which is 5% behind last year and on pace with normal. 76% is rated good or better, 30% more than last year. i>

  • Oats -- 54% of the crop was at or beyond the heading stage, which is 5% ahead of last year and 4% ahead of the five-year average. 83% is rated Good of Excellent, compared to 43% last year.


  • Pasture -- 50% is rated Good or Excellent, compared to 38% last year. 23% is rated Poor or Very Poor, compared to 32% a year ago.
States with the worst pasture conditions -- at least 30% of the acreage rated poor or worse -- include: Alabama (85%); Arizona (49%); California (95%); Florida (55%); Georgia (64%); Kentucky (61%); Mississippi (59%); Nevada (39%); North Carolina (43%); Ohio (32%); Pennsylvania (34%); Tennessee (67%).

On the wet side of the fence, states with the most lush pasture conditions -- at least 40% rated good or better -- include: Arkansas (58%); Colorado (77%); Idaho (58%); Iowa (66%); Kansas (65%); Louisiana (66%); Maine (85%); Maryland (50%); Michigan (41%); Minnesota (63%); Missouri (43%); Montana (80%); Nebraska (73%); New Mexico (62%); New York (75%); North Dakota (83%); Oklahoma (74%); Oregon (41%); South Dakota (77%); Texas (75%); Washington (64%); Wisconsin (51%); Wyoming (47%).


Events
Nov. 7-8 -- BEEF Quality Summit, Holiday Inn Centre, Omaha, NE; 1-800-722-5334, ext. 14606; or www.beefconference.com.

Dec. 13 -- Alabama Forage Conference, Troy, AL, contact Eddie Jolley (334-887-4564) or Don Ball (334-844-5491).



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Markets
Yearling Prices Continue To Counter Fed Market
"The recent fed-cattle price drop from the mid $90s to the low $90s occurred sooner than expected and raises questions about whether markets are merely weakening seasonally or as a result of something more fundamental," says Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist. "Feeder-cattle markets remain generally strong and, while no clear threats can be identified at this time, there's a lengthy list of factors that could inject volatility into cattle markets in the coming weeks and months."

Speaking to the former, reporters from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) point out fed-cattle prices have dropped $11/cwt. over the last five weeks; Choice carcass cutout values have lost more than $23 during the same period.

"Weekly low fed-cattle prices will likely be in the mid $80s/cwt." say analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center. "Last year, the summer quarter (July- September) fed-cattle price averaged $85.34/cwt. in the Southern Plains. Prices then averaged $87.25/cwt. in the fourth quarter and $85.94/cwt. for the year. Prices are forecast to be higher than 2006's for the balance of 2007. In fact, the annual average cash fed-cattle price for 2007 is forecast to exceed $90/cwt. for the first time (average near $93)."

"Sluggish macro-economic indicators, high gas prices and weaker pork exports are likely contributing to beef demand pressure," Peel says. "Anticipated increases in broiler production in the second half of the year will add additional pressure to meat supplies."

On the other hand, while fed-cattle prices have crumbled, AMS notes yearling feeder cattle prices are virtually the same as they were five weeks ago although corn is nearly 15¢/bu. higher.

Last week, AMS reported market strength for heavier yearling steers weighing over 800 lbs., while yearling stocker cattle under 700 lbs. and calves traded unevenly steady in the Plains and the Midwest. Southeastern calves traded $3-$6 lower.

"Northern Plains buyers are showing the best demand and their preference for predominantly English cattle has held the market for these types in check, even in the Southern Plains," explains the AMS crew. "Cattle showing excess ear and an obvious amount of Brahman influence are falling under pressure, even though these cattle are more suited for the upcoming hot weather. This situation may be exacerbated this year because of the drought conditions in the Southeast and the larger than normal movement of crossbred cattle to the west."

According to Peel, "Fundamental to the general strength in cattle prices are cyclically low cattle inventories, extended this year by drought-disrupted herd expansion in 2006. The question of the extent to which herd expansion resumes this year will have implications beyond this year but also immediately as renewed heifer retention will further limit feeder cattle supplies in 2007."

To this point it appears expansion may be limited at best. According to the June "Livestock, Dairy and Poultry" Outlook from USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), commercial beef and dairy cow slaughter continues at higher levels than expected so far in the second quarter of 2007, relative to the Jan. 1, 2007 cow inventory and typical seasonal cow slaughter patterns. Consequently ERS predicts cow slaughter will cut into the year-to-year inventory levels Jan. 1 if it continues at the current pace.

"While cow herd expansion has clearly resumed in the center part of the country, offsetting liquidation in the Southeast may temper herd expansion once again," Peel says. "Overall levels of beef production depend on cattle supplies and also on carcass weights. Carcass weights have been lower since severe winter weather reduced feedlot production in January and February and carcass weights are expected to remain below year ago levels due to the continuing impacts of high feed prices."

Meanwhile, Friday's Cattle-On-Feed Report offered this:
  • Cattle and calves on feed: +1% (11.3 million head) compared to June 1, 2006; +5% compared to 2005. It's the highest June 1 inventory since the series began in 1996.


  • Placements (May): +13% (2.16 million) compared to 2006; -3% compared to 2005. Net placements were 2.06 million.


  • Marketings-fed cattle: -3% (2.09 million) compared to 2006; +4% compared to 2005.
The summary below reflects the week ended June 22 for Medium and Large 1 -- 500- to 550-lb., 600- to 650-lb. (calves), 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.
MO 39,600 $125.20 $119.38 $101.62 $113.55 $107.50 $103.91
KY* 30,100 $102-112 $97-107 $95-1055 $93-103 $87-973 $84-945
OK 17,100 $125.12 $114.95 $109.72 $108.67 $104.43 $101.69
AL 15,100 $108-116 $101-108 $97-102 $98-107 $95-99 $82-865
TN* 13,500 $108.75 $103.77 $97.78 $97.24 $92.97 $87.73
TX 12,700 $112.55 $101.80 $106.26 $106.90 $102.74 $100.72
AR 9,100 $114.49 $108.98 $100.17 $104.99 $98.77 $92.33
GA*(***) 8,100 $100-119.50 $91-107 $85-100 $90-106 $85-101 $82-88
Carolinas* 8,000 $94-111 $88-108 $89-100.50 $80-108 $80-97 $75.50-88
Dakotas 7,400
South Dakota
North Dakota

**
**

**
**

$117.34
**

$121.832
**

$112.34
**

$113.50
**
MS* 6,500 $100-1101 $90-1003 ** $90-100 $80-903 **
FL* 5,400 $99-112 $89-103 $90-984 $88-100 $89-91 **
KS 3,500 ** ** $108.79 ** ** $99.777
LA(ND) 3,400 $94-110 $90-1072 ** $92-105 $91-982 **
VA 2,300 $111.13 $109.32 $108.104 $101.27 $93.78 **
MT 1,500 ** ** ** $1092 ** **
CO 1,300 ** $116.104 ** ** $101.954 **

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


Contact
Questions & Comments
Please send questions to:

Wes Ishmael, Contributing Editor, BEEF Stocker Trends, at wesleysink@aol.com

Joe Roybal, Editor, BEEF magazine, at jroybal@beef-mag.com



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