Wholesale beef prices are dropping as the production logjam in processing plants created by COVID-19 continues to loosen and return to normal, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said wholesale beef prices were nearing last year’s lows.
Choice box beef cutout, which includes large cuts of beef that represent cuts like steaks, briskets, prime chuck and roasts, peaked at $4.59 per pound as COVID-19 began affecting the nation’s production capacity. Last week, the wholesale price was $2.41 per pound and nearing the price for June 2019, $2.22 per pound.
“As packing capacity recovered, the price has come back down to Earth,” he said. “Choice box beef cutout is a good representation of the wholesale value of a carcass, and so it appears that prices are returning to normal.”
Lower beef prices
Anderson said individual wholesale cuts, rib-eyes for example, have also started to decline. They peaked at $11.62 per pound and have fallen to $9.52 compared to $7.83 a year ago. Chuck roasts were $6.29 per pound wholesale and have fallen to $2.57 per pound as production capacity returns.
Day-to-day beef production has surpassed 2019 numbers, which is another indication bottlenecks at processing facilities were opening, he said. But processing capacity remains below 100%.
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“Prices are coming down as packers return to capacity,” he said. “Beef production was larger than the same week a year ago but it’s because feeder cattle weights are up due to good spring conditions and producers and feedlots hanging on to cattle longer than normal.”
Anderson suspects it’s only a matter of time before wholesale price declines translate into lower prices for consumers at grocery stores.
Retail prices were very high as the pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the market, he said. Rushes on meat products, restaurant closures and unemployment are among the factors that contributed to a highly volatile beef market.
Beef prices in grilling season
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported retail prices for all quality cuts averaged $7.59 per pound compared to $6.17 per pound last May in its summary of retail prices and price spreads report on June 10.
Anderson said he expects retail prices in June and July to reflect the drop in wholesale prices.
“There’s always a lag to these price changes,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where wholesale prices end up and whether the prices at grocers will be as dramatic as what we’ve seen with wholesale.”
Despite being in the heart of grilling season with the Fourth of July holiday coming up, Anderson said the economy will be the wildcard that drives beef prices – especially for ground beef, steaks, briskets and the rest.
“We still have a recession, 40 million people unemployed, falling incomes, restaurants at partial capacity and none of that is good for beef, especially high-value cuts,” he said. “What kind of economic recovery will we see? A V-shaped recovery is the best case, but if it’s not that means there are a lot of struggles, not just in the beef market.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Conditions continued to be hot and dry. No rain was in the forecast, and temperatures were expected to be above normal. Counties reported adequate to short soil moisture levels. Crops and grasses continued to struggle as dry conditions persisted.
The district was listed as being “abnormally dry” in the state drought monitor. Irrigated crops looked good, but all dryland crops and fields were showing symptoms of drought stress. Grasshoppers were increasing in number. Most producers were cutting and baling their first round of hay.
Livestock were in good condition. Some brush control work was done. Wheat and oat harvests were wrapped or wrapping up for most producers. Yields varied a great deal depending on location. Early planted corn and late-planted fields were progressing very differently.
Early corn looked very promising but needed rain while late-planted corn was struggling and needed moisture badly. Grain sorghum was heading out well and looked decent. Cotton looked OK but needed a good rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were declining.
No soybeans, sunflowers, rice or peanuts were planted so far. Cattle were in good body condition, and stock tanks were full.
Windy and warm conditions continued to dry topsoil moisture. Cotton planting continued with some producers looking to replant due to wind damage. Wheat harvest continued. Grasshoppers were an issue.
Days were very hot and dry. Topsoil moisture levels were diminishing with breezy conditions and low humidity. Crops benefited from previous rains but needed more. Corn was short with small ears and was denting and beginning to dry down.
Grain sorghum was turning color. Grain sorghum harvest may begin soon, but some unwanted tillering could set fields back. Growth regulators were applied to cotton.
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Cotton fields benefited most from the recent rains and were setting bolls and blooming. Some cotton was irrigated where available. Some bacterial blight in susceptible cotton varieties was reported. Soybeans were blooming. Rice fields were in flood stage.
Hay was being cut and baled with producers reporting some of the largest hay yields in recent years. Pastures needed more moisture to continue growth. Livestock were in good condition.
Most counties needed rain as warmer temperatures were quickly drying everything up. Shelby County received some much-needed rainfall. Hay production was in full swing in most areas. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate.
Vegetable crops as well as peaches, blueberries, plums and blackberries were being harvested. Livestock were in fair to good condition. Cattle market prices were down. Horn fly numbers increased. Cherokee County received reports of armyworm infestations. Wild pigs continued to be a problem for most producers across the district.
Conditions were hot, dry and windy. Subsoil and topsoil moisture levels were still short due to lack of moisture. Rangeland and winter wheat were still in good condition. Producers continued to irrigate crops. Cattle were in good condition.
Most of the district reported very short to short topsoil and subsoil moisture. Pasture and rangeland conditions were very poor to fair. Winter wheat was in poor to good condition with 50% of fields harvested. Corn, cotton, sorghum and soybeans were in fair to good condition. Peanuts in the southeast corner of the district were in good to fair condition.
Topsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly short to adequate. Dry conditions were starting to take a toll on pastures. Hay harvesting was in full swing, with producers getting their first cutting and following with fertilizer. Wheat harvest continued, and yields were fair. Corn looked great, and soybeans and cotton were doing well. Flies were stressing livestock.
Daytime temperatures ranged above 100 degrees to lows in the 60s at night. No precipitation was reported. Conditions continued to be very hot, dry and windy. All cotton was planted, but most dryland acres were not expected to emerge. Irrigated cotton was having difficulty progressing.
Corn was holding on but getting farther behind schedule as most fields were pollinating or developing kernels. Sorghum was expected to enter the boot stage soon. Watermelons were about the only crop performing decent.
Pecan trees were coming along, and producers and homeowners were hopeful for a good crop this year. Pecan nut casebearers outbreaks during the first flight were limited, but producers were monitoring for a second flight.
Supplemental feeding of livestock resumed due to lack of forage. Livestock producers continued to work calves. Bulls were turned out. Cattle body conditions were good despite the arid weather conditions.
It was a dry, windy reporting period. Temperatures were up and down from record highs to record lows. Cotton needed a rain to emerge and grow. Sorghum needed rain as well. Wheat harvest was going strong.
The first cutting of hay was below average. Pastures were in good shape overall. Forages continued to dry out, and wildfire dangers continued to rise. Livestock were in fair to good condition throughout the district.
Days were hot and drying soil moisture levels down. Pastures were drying up quickly. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to poor with good ratings being the most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate levels being the most common.
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Moisture conditions were declining with no precipitation and high temperatures reported. Sutton County reported a wildfire burned 1,530 acres. Hay producers were busy cutting pastures. Yields were above average, and quality was high.
Corn and sorghum fields looked good. Farmers with irrigation were watering. Rangeland and pasture conditions were fair to good but dwindling due to a lack of moisture. Livestock conditions were fair to good. Late marketing of spring calves continued.
Caldwell County reported cattle markets were improving slowly, and sheep and goat markets were still high. Wildlife were in fair to good shape.
Mild weather and adequate to very short soil moisture levels were reported. La Salle County reported about 1 inch of rain during a severe storm that brought high winds and rain.
Maverick County reported no rain and daytime temperatures around 100 degrees every day. A cool front in southern areas of the district lowered nighttime temperatures. Conditions were mostly favorable for crop progress. Peanut planting and potato harvest continued.
Cotton fields were in the match square to bloom stage and making good progress in most areas. Some cotton in southern parts of the district were setting bolls. Corn fields were drying out and maturing. Some corn was in the dent stage. Some grain sorghum and early planted corn were being harvested in Hidalgo County.
Sesame fields near McCook looked in excellent condition following recent rains. Most row crop yield potential improved due to rains. Other crops like watermelons and cantaloupes were in full production. Pecan orchards were developing well, and there were no reports of pest issues, so far. Wheat harvest was complete.
Bermuda grass hay was cut and baled. Irrigated pastures were producing good yields and quality bales. Native and non-native grasses were green and very beneficial for wildlife and cattle. Sunflowers and sorghum were continuing to grow.
Forage availability improved and continued to be enough to support livestock in most areas, but conditions were declining in drier areas. Some producers were providing supplemental feed for livestock and wildlife. Stock tanks were full.