Spring conditions are helping shape a strong cattle market in 2016, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist based in College Station.
Dr. David Anderson, an AgriLife Extension livestock economist, said conditions around most of the state have been good for cattle producers. Aside from areas where there has been flooding, Anderson said 2016 is shaping up to be a good year.
Good conditions won’t mean a return to record prices producers received in 2014 and 2015, he said. But prices will likely remain high, historically speaking.
Prices for 500-600 pound calves are expected to average $180 per hundredweight for the year. Compared to 2009, the market’s last real valley, 550–pound steers averaged about $101 per hundredweight for the year.
Prices began climbing in mid-2009 as producers reduced herds and drought conditions in 2011 forced even more herd reduction, Anderson said. Sharply falling feed costs in 2013 and 2014 only accelerated rising calf prices.
Anderson said the El Niño weather pattern over the past couple years likely contributed to drought ending rains, creating conditions which allowed producers to expand herds. But expansion is driving prices down now, he said.
He expects the long-term trend to continue downward but doesn’t expect dramatic price fluctuations for the near future. Prices for 500-600 pound calves remain strong because they are still hard to come by, he said.
A La Niña weather pattern is expected to develop later this year, but Anderson said any drastic change over the summer could move the market one way or the other. However, he expects 2016 to be a good overall year for cattle producers.
Spring is historically a good season for beef sales, Anderson said. People are cooking out and grilling, so “middle meats,” such as ribeyes and strips, are increasingly in demand. And prices are rising accordingly. Wholesale ribeye prices climbed more than $1 a pound between February and mid-March, but overall retail beef prices have remained relatively flat this year after a steady decline since May 2015.
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“Selling a 500-pound calf for around $850 to $900 isn’t bad,” he said. “Prices are going to remain historically high but just not at the record numbers we saw a year ago.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
CENTRAL: Conditions were windy and cool but temperatures were not expected to affect crop conditions. Overall conditions were good. Producers sprayed and fertilized fields. Topsoil and subsoil moisture remained good. Mesquite trees leafed out. Corn farmers finished planting corn and sorghum. The majority of corn was planted before the last rain. Some corn was replanted due to feral hog damage. Milo was going in the ground and producers prepared to plant cotton. Large numbers of beneficial insects were in the fields, which could pair with seed treatments and help prevent pest problems. Livestock conditions were steady and strong with plentiful forage and water. Counties reported good soil moisture. Overall range and pasture conditions were good. Overall crop and livestock conditions were good in most areas.
ROLLING PLAINS: High winds zapped moisture and put area ranches on high fire alert. In some counties wheat looked good but other counties reported rust. Some wheat varieties were affected more than others. Warm, dry weather allowed for some field preparations for cotton and milo planting. Wheat producers who planned on grazing out their crop increased stocking rates.
COASTAL BEND: Heavy frost caused damage but was limited to Johnson grass and vegetables. Farmers were at the halfway point with rice and cotton planting. Planters were busy as fields dried. A small amount of grain sorghum was replanted but most cotton had to be replanted. Pastures were green or greening and looked good overall. Cattle had plenty to eat and looked healthy. Wheat was in good condition, though rains were likely too late to improve yield significantly. Sorghum emerged and was in good condition. Growers were busy with rotary hoes to fight sand as fields dried and winds picked up.
EAST: More rain was received as cool fronts pushed through the area. Rivers that started to recede were backing up. Lake and pond levels were full. Water in small creeks was creeping upwards toward the bridges. Up to five inches of rain fell in Trinity County, which was reported to have more flooding than all of last year. Pasture and field conditions were improving. Weed control was underway in lawns and pastures. Cool- season forages were growing well and warm-season grasses were breaking dormancy. Many producers were expected to prepare hay fields by removing ryegrass and other cool-season forages in preparation for warm-season forage growth. Farmers were planting spring gardens. Homeowners were planting flowers, roses and other plants around their homes. Cattle were in good condition and spring cattle work was underway. Hay supplementation continued in Henderson County. Insect populations increased.
SOUTH PLAINS: Conditions in Crosby County varied. Daytime temperatures were warm and windy, while nights were cool. High winds and warm daily temperatures in Hale County began to take their toll on what looked like a good wheat crop. Subsoil moisture seems to be holding up, but topsoil moisture depleted quickly. Scurry County reported dry and mild conditions.
PANHANDLE: Conditions were dry and windy. Some moisture was received across most of the region in the form of rain or snow at the end of the week. Amounts ranged from a trace to half an inch. A good general rain was needed throughout the region. Fire danger was high. Deaf Smith County producers prepared land with spring planting around the corner. Winter wheat conditions were in a holding pattern. Some producers ran irrigation pivots on wheat fields. Planting intentions were still up in the air for many producers. Many are considering planting corn soon but remain undecided on other crops. Rain in Hall County would be needed to help wheat and pastures and improve cattle conditions. Cattle remained in good condition. Range and pasture conditions continued to be mostly fair to good.
NORTH: Topsoil moisture varied from short to adequate in the region. Cold fronts brought cooler temperatures and up to a half-inch of rain in some areas. Rains kept farmers out of the fields. The cold fronts also brought a couple of light freezes to the county. There were no reports of crop damages. Corn planting continued in the county. About 40 percent of fields were planted and about corn was emerging in 10 percent of fields. Winter annual pastures were doing very well. Pastures looked better and ryegrass and clover improved.
FAR WEST: Wheat progressed and fields were treated for rust that affected some susceptible varieties. Corn was in the ground and sorghum was to be planted soon. Field work continued in preparation for the upcoming cotton season. Weeds were being sprayed or plowed under and rows were being laid off. Temperatures were warm to mild with no precipitation. High winds created dry conditions and caused high fire danger across the district. Pasture and range conditions were fair.
WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were warm and very windy. A few areas reported scattered rain. Stock tanks and ponds were full in most areas. Field activities increased. Ranchers sprayed weeds and planted summer crops. Farmers were busy planting grain sorghum and plowing to get ready for cotton in May. Soil moisture was adequate but more rain was needed due to windy conditions. Field preparation was underway for planting haygrazer. Wheat seemed to be growing decently. Rust was beginning to be a problem for wheat in some areas. Range and pastures were in good condition and have greened up. Weeds were abundant in pastures and required management. Livestock remained in mostly good condition.
SOUTHEAST: A few oat and ryegrass fields were cut for hay in Brazos County. Heavy frost caused damage in some early planted corn fields. In Orange County, standing water from flooding started to recede. Soil-moisture levels throughout the region varied widely, but most were in the adequate-to-surplus range with surplus being the most common. Brazos County reported 100 percent adequate moisture. Rangeland and pasture conditions varied widely too, mostly from excellent to good, with good being the most common.
SOUTHWEST: Recent rains provided good soil moisture but there was no rainfall. Warm temperatures produced a flush of green. Farmers tried to finish up milo planting and cotton planting was expected to start soon. Lambing and kidding were underway, and livestock were in fair condition.
SOUTH: Good conditions continued with some light showers in some parts of the region. Temperatures remained cool in Atascosa County. In Frio County, some showers occurred with mild temperatures. Wheat and oat crops entered the heading stage. Potato crops began flowering. Sorghum planting continued, but there was a decrease in acreage planted. Corn crops were in the four- to six-leaf stages and in fair to good condition. Range and pastures continued to green up with recent rainfall. In McMullen County, range and pasture conditions improved with good soil moisture conditions and mild temperatures. Pastures greened up and improved grazing conditions for cattle and wildlife. There was good growth of winter annual grasses, and summer perennial grasses were breaking dormancy. The south part of the county lagged in soil moisture. Cattle body conditions remained good and most supplemental feeding diminished.
Fairly clear days persisted, leading to some drying of the fields in eastern portions of the region. Planting continued but many crops remained unplanted. However, progress with further planting should be made fairly quickly. Range and pasture conditions improved significantly and should improve as days clear and temperatures rise. Livestock conditions were good as well. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent throughout the area. Favorable conditions continued in Dimmit County. There were good conditions for forage production, but the county could use more rain to help spring range and pasture greening. In Zavala County, conditions were excellent and allowed producers to enter fields to continue sorghum, corn and cotton planting. Adequate subsoil moisture was available to get those crops emerged. Warmer conditions were common in the crop growing area. Some spinach harvesting occurred. Livestock producers suspended all supplemental feeding activities due to active growth of native grasses and forbes on range and pastures. Late-planted cabbage fields were expected to be harvested in some parts of the county soon. Soil moisture conditions were up to 80 percent adequate in Dimmit County and 100 percent adequate in Zavala County. Sugarcane harvesting continued in southern portions of the region. Onion harvests started to gain momentum while vegetable harvesting continued, and citrus harvesting wound down in the Hidalgo County area. Cotton and grain sorghum planting was expected to be completed soon. Soil moisture conditions were 100 percent throughout Hidalgo County.