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Cattle markets to be explosive!

Get ready, beef producers, for a good ride.

That’s the message from beef industry market experts at CattleFax. They told it to the beef producers gathered this week in Nashville for the 2021 Cattle Industry Convention.

CattleFax CEO Randy Blach ticked off several factors that are coming together to fuel the good times coming in cattle prices, which could last for several years.

• Shrinking inventory. Not only are cattle numbers falling in general, but particularly inventory of market-ready cattle in feedlots is about to back off. During the early months of the pandemic in 2020, those cattle got backed up in feedlots as plants slowed or shuttered. “We still haven’t fully caught up with that inventory backlog,” said Blach. “Right now, we’re cleaning up the front-end supply. When that happens, this cattle market could be explosive. We don’t know when exactly, but it could be in two to six months.”

• Record demand. Beef demand, a metric of supply and prices, has been on a tear. Beef prices in the supermarket are at record levels, near $7 a pound. That coupled with record beef supplies is a good combination and means overall beef demand is at its highest point in over 30 years. Even the pandemic seems to have helped beef demand, as consumers stayed home to eat and pampered themselves with beef on the grill.

READ MORE: Beef farmers hit hardest in extreme drought conditions can leverage resources

• Record exports. Exports add nearly $400 per head to the value of beef animals, Blach said, and he thinks that number will go to $500 within a few years. China is the driver, as exports there have now surpassed what we send to Canada or Mexico.

• Harvest capacity. As cattle inventory backs off and packing plant capacity increases, Blach predicts that cattle producers will gain leverage over packers in the bidding process for fed cattle. Right now, of the $750-per-head margins in cattle in the farm:retail spread, packers get about $400 and the rest is spread out among producers and retailers. “By 2023, that will get back into balance and leverage will come back to cattle feeders,” Blach said.

• The economy. It’s coming back, along with inflationary pressures. Customer traffic has remained strong at restaurant and retail shops. Consumers seem willing to pay more for beef, said Blach.

READ MORE: Two new USDA reports to put more details into cattle prices

Put all that together, and CattleFax thinks fed cattle prices will show a nice bump in 2022 to $135 per hundred, up from $121 this year. Peaks will be as high as $145.

As for feeder cattle, the 550- to 600-pounders that cow/calf producers typically sell could average over $200 per hundred next year, with peaks to $230. That’s up from about $170 average in 2021. “We’re looking at a very solid fundamental picture for the beef industry,” said Blach.

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