Beef, dairy and pork producers can find some positive trends in the USDA’s latest Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report, released Nov. 17. Beef and cattle prices continue to move higher, the October all-milk price fell just short of the record set in September, and hog prices are high due to tight supplies.

While some areas remain under severe drought, particularly in California, most parts of the United States experienced a good growing season this year, resulting in lower feed prices and more productive pastures. Cow-calf producers likely have kept calves on pasture longer than in recent years, resulting in smaller numbers of calves shipping to feedyards early this fall and heavier placement weights. Likewise, lower corn and soybean prices have allowed cattle feeders to cost-effectively feed cattle to heavier weights.

Dressed weights in September averaged over 820 pounds, according to the report, about 20 pounds heavier than one year ago. The ratio of steers to heifers on feed also has contributed to heavier average slaughter weights. As of October 1, the number of heifers on feed was down 3 percent from a year ago, compared with a 1 percent decline in steers on feed.

Heavier slaughter weights have helped offset an overall reduction in slaughter numbers, and USDA projects 2014 beef production to drop slightly compared with 2013.

Other key points from the report include:

  • The third-quarter 2014 five-area price of steers averaged $158.49 per hundredweight, with an expected increase to $163 to $167 in the fourth quarter.
  • Third-quarter 2014 composite prices for retail choice beef climbed to $6.15 per pound, boosted by September’s record $6.26 per pound, while the third quarter All-Fresh beef averaged $5.76 per pound, both new record quarterly averages.
  • U.S. cattle imports for the third quarter were 34 percent higher than last year, driven by record-high feeder-cattle prices. Combined with higher imports during the first half of the year, cumulative-year imports were up 17 percent from Mexico and 12 percent from Canada.
  • U.S. beef imports during the third quarter were 48 percent higher than the third quarter of 2013, driven by strong demand for lean processing beef.
  • U.S. beef exports were up 1 percent from last year through September 2014. While exports during the first half of the year were up 5 percent from the same period a year earlier, third-quarter exports were 5 percent lower than last year.
  • USDA projects U.S. beef exports for 2014 at 2.599 billion pounds. Exports are expected to fall 3 percent in 2015 to 2.525 billion pounds due to lower U.S. beef production.
  • The October all milk price of $25.30 per hundredweight was second only to the record-high September price of $25.70 per hundredweight.
  • As the U.S. pork industry recovers from the outbreak of PEDv, fourth-quarter pork production is expected to be almost 5 percent below a year ago, and hog prices are likely to average $68 to $70 per hundredweight.
  • September pork exports were more than13 percent below a year earlier.

View the full Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report from USDA.