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Meat Market Update | Daily Spot Cutout Up; Spot Trade Volume At Yearly Low

Ed Czerwien, USDA Market News reporter in Amarillo, TX, provides us with the latest outlook on boxed beef prices and the weekly cattle trade.

In this week's trade, the Daily Spot Choice boxed beef cutout was up by 3.63 over previous week, closing at 204.60. However, the weekly total for daily spot volumne was at a yearly low of 602 loads. This was only about 8.9% of the total sales for the week. The average choice cutout, which includes all types of sales along with the spot trade, was up from the previous week.

Find more cattle price news here or bookmark our commodity price page for the minute-by-minute updates.

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FFA Teaches Lessons That Get Better With Age

national ffa lessons

Our local FFA chapter hosted its creed contest last week, as most chapters were off to Louisville, KY, for the national convention. Anyone familiar with FFA knows that the contest is a career development event, or CDE, in which FFA members in grades 7, 8, and 9 present the FFA Creed from memory and answer questions about its meaning and purpose.

 I’m a big fan of FFA and the opportunities it provides to its members. In fact, I’ve been a judge for several creed contests and have had the pleasure of watching my kids compete as well. I think it’s a great contest because it gets kids up in front of others, and teaches them to be confident and competent in speaking about agriculture.

As they always do, this year’s kids did a very good job in the competition, answering some questions that I thought were tough. In fact, I wasn’t sure how I would have answered one or two of the questions if I’d been asked and allowed no time to prepare or think about them.

I do have to admit, however, that I thought the FFA creed showed its age a little bit. I think it’s worded in such a way that it’s a little difficult to grasp some of the key concepts. After listening to the kids this year, however, I decided that it’s probably a good thing, as it forces the kids to think about life, agriculture, and the FFA organization in ways that they probably haven’t had to in the past.

I wish I would have better understood the opportunities organizations like FFA gave me at the time I participated. But it says a lot about an organization when you realize more and more of its value the longer you’ve been away from it.

 

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Despite Incentive To Act Quickly, Farm Bill Progress Unlikely

farm bill debate continues in washington

Discussions between lawmakers to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the farm bill are now underway after being sidelined by all the budget hoopla of early October. If you believe the politicians, there’s a good chance of a compromise plan emerging from these talks. However, the lobbyists and special interest groups with a stake in the farm bill don’t share that optimism. The differences between the sides are just too large to find a compromise at this point, they say. 

One needs a scorecard to keep track of all the differences. Of course, everything in Washington is budget-driven at this point, and that’s understandable. After all, our government reportedly is spending $200 million/hour more than it takes in, and that’s 24 hours/day, 365 days/year. The situation is even more problematic when one considers that those figures don’t count all the off-book debt we continue to rack up, which makes the $200 million/hour look like pocket change.

The budget that’s been proposed by the Senate is dramatically different from the farm bill passed by the House. This is where it gets confusing. The proposed House budget has no chance of passing the Senate or getting Obama’s signature. However, since the House has the only “real” proposal on the table, it’s the only standard to go by.

The House passed a farm bill that contained only a third of the cuts that the House budget had wanted, which was $184 billion over 10 years. Meanwhile, the Senate’s version only has an eighth of those cuts. Another confusing factor is that the vast majority of the debate centers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be called food stamps. SNAP constitutes a huge portion of the budget, so it is where the real contention lies regarding the amount of cuts.

The experts think the gap between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill is just too big to reconcile, even before figuring in the demands that the House budget proposal is making. If the conference committee can’t find a compromise, then the talk is that that another committee will take over the farm bill. This is a new committee that’s been given the task of developing a comprehensive budget, and it will take over the farm bill as its needs to claim the cuts in its calculations in order to avoid the deeper cuts that will take place Jan. 1 due to the sequester.

There are substantive differences between the House and Senate versions on matters that truly pertain to agriculture, but they’re actually relatively minor in comparison. The interesting thing is that if this new committee takes over the farm bill, what emerges could be drastically different than either the House or Senate versions.

One would think such a prospect would increase the impetus for the House and Senate to get something done immediately. However, given recent history, the odds are in favor of the farm bill getting caught up in the overall budget debate.

There already have been attempts to break out the nutrition title from the farm bill, which is where the majority of disagreement resides. But the attempts have failed, so the farm bill will continue to be held hostage by the SNAP debate.

In 2009, the federal economic stimulus increased SNAP funding by about $5 billion; that goes away in November if a farm bill isn’t passed. Thus, the lack of agreement will actually result in a decrease in SNAP funding – about $1 billion larger than even the bill passed by the House. It seems like there’s every incentive to act quickly, but little hope that Congress will be able to.

 

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The freak autumn blizzard in South Dakota also should be adding impetus for quick action. Both the House and Senate versions would reinstate the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) that expired in 2011, and would retroactively reinstate the program for 2012 and 2013. This would provide some relief to affected producers. Before anyone gets overly excited about the chance of relief via the LIP program, however, bear in mind that any payments wouldn’t occur for an additional seven months after approval.

Are you confused? Everything is being driven by the budget battle, and any resolution to our fiscal woes seems unlikely anytime soon. As a result, the farm bill will likely be held in limbo, unless the conference committee acts quickly to resolve the differences.

 

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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: 3 Things You Need To Know Today

I’ve poured over this week’s buzz and rounded up three of the most popular items being discussed by farmers and ranchers on social media right now. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly on these hot topics.

1. Horse Slaughter in the U.S.

The Good: A judge has cleared the way for a horse slaughter plant to open.

According to Philly.com, “As early as next week, horses may be slaughtered and butchered for their meat for the first time in seven years in the U.S. A federal judge in New Mexico in a ruling cleared the way for a meat company in that state to begin slaughtering horses. U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo dismissed a lawsuit by animal welfare groups that had sought to prevent plants from starting up again.”

This ruling would help restore the health of our horse population in the U.S. Plus, it would eliminate poor treatment of the horses in other countries, where they now have to be shipped. Like it or not, being able to slaughter horses in a federally-regulated and inspected plant ensures these animals are harvested with respect and dignity, instead of left to the mercy of long truck rides, poor handling and/or neglect or abandonment.

The Bad: Not so fast. Horse slaughter has been halted just days after the ruling.

Fox News reports, “A federal appeals court has temporarily put the brakes on plans to resume horse slaughter for human consumption in the U.S., after a New Mexico judge last week dismissed a push by animal rights groups to stop the practice. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued a temporary injunction barring the Department of Agriculture from inspecting the plants. Slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri had hoped to start up as soon as this week after the federal judge in Albuquerque threw out a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the U.S. and other animal protection groups.”

 

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2. FFA Students Raising Beef Cattle

The Good: FFA supports young people who are interested in learning about production agriculture. From coast-to-coast, urban and rural students alike are getting new opportunities to get hands-on experience in raising livestock.

The Bad & The Ugly: One local FFA student’s steer was set on fire at a school barn.

According to KSBY, “Paso Robles police are looking for clues to find out who set a steer on fire. It happened recently at the Paso Robles High School agriculture barn. The five-month old steer was found by its owner when he stopped by to feed the animal.”

This act of animal cruelty is intolerable. I suspect this was the act of animal rights activists, but no word has been reported on the culprit yet. Needless to say, no acts of animal cruelty should be tolerated by our industry. Whether this was intended to be a sick practical joke or malicious act of violence, this is an unfortunate story where both the FFA student and the steer have been made victims.

3. Bridging The Gap From Producers To Consumers

The Good: More people are seeking information about where their food comes from, opening up an opportunity for ranchers to get involved in the conversation. Programs like the Masters of Beef Advocacy can help prepare ranchers for conversations with the media and consumers.

The Bad: Many consumers are getting their information from a sensational Dr. Oz.

Emily Mottax Webel wrote an excellent blog post explaining how Dr. Oz uses fear-mongering to boost ratings. She responded to a particularly troubling episode where Oz targets farmers.

Webel writes, “When I began to watch the trailer for yesterday's episode, I was nervous. The music alone was nerve wracking. Then, the picture of a combine in a wheat field showed up, dissolving into a corn field waving in the breeze, and then a crop duster (cue even scarier music), followed by ripe fruits and vegetables. All the while, the intense voice over guy was spewing details in regards to the ‘best kept secret in the food industry.’ I watched as Dr. Oz then illustrated the use of pesticides using people spraying small spraying devices on a bucket of corn. Woman after woman joined this illustration, all the while, Dr. Oz was explaining how the use of pesticides since the 90s has increased, and how also we can blame all the miscarriages, learning disabilities and birth defects on us, the evil farmer. But, surprisingly missing during this time was a farmer.”

Read her entire blog post here. 

Do you have any food for thought to offer on these three hot topics? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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No USDA Price Data? Market Seems To Say “No Problem”

cattle prices during government shutdown

Markets don’t like uncertainty; at least that’s the conventional wisdom among traders. That axiom would have us believe then that during the government shutdown of early October, the market would have hunkered down, and trading would have been cautious. However, despite the halt in price information from USDA, both the cash and futures markets moved higher in October.

Cash trade solidly crossed the $130/cwt. mark and established a new record as October closed for business. In fact, fed prices advanced $6-7 during the past month while USDA was away.   Meanwhile, spring 2014 fed cattle futures have taken another stab at new all-time highs. So, despite the absence of governmental market reporting, the market has been moving higher – all underpinned by broader fundamentals.

October’s price achievements are well in line with expectations based on the past several years. Last month’s column explained, “…the upper end of the market will likely range between $130 and $135 in November/December.” That estimation was based on historical seasonal patterns and the prospect of wholesale prices moving back through the $200 level in the fourth quarter. We’ve at least managed to get there, albeit a little earlier than normally expected.

Also noted last month, though, was that a $5 spread is a large window for the purpose of estimating the peak for fall prices. In general, given the bullishness within the market in recent weeks, there’s likely some upside left over the short-run.

Beef customers beginning to make purchases for the holiday season in earnest should also bolster the market. Plus, supply remains relatively tight. So, consider October’s cash market advance coupled with likelihood of active beef movement in the near-term, and all the while fed cattle supply remains limited. Those factors all combine for a favorable outlook ahead of Thanksgiving.

That said, there’s also always the need for vigilance and assessment of all the factors that can get in the way. Primarily, there’s only so much room for pricing power in the meat case and on restaurant menus; clearly, a $200+ Choice cutout makes retail and restaurant margins particularly challenging. That portends some pushback if the market moves too far, too fast. All that has been reflected by CME action in recent days; trading seems hesitant at these levels and appears poised to consolidate before making a push higher.

 

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Moreover, the economy continues to just sputter along with no real prospect for meaningful job creation in the near future. Not to mention the continued public angst caused by commotion around the federal budgets, debt ceiling and Affordable Care Act. This will be an especially interesting holiday season to watch in terms of consumer spending and the influence that has on the potential for higher prices in the protein market over the long-run.

October’s Cattle on Feed report was released nearly two weeks later than normal because of the government shutdown. General consensus of the report was that it was largely in line with pre-report expectations. However, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the report came on the marketings side. Fed cattle trade came in at nearly 1.7 million head – a whopping 6% ahead of last year’s pace, and only 4% behind the five-year average. That work proves very supportive of the outlook of tight supply in the deferred months. Cattle feeders will likely be managing their respective supply and marketing plans around the way in which December and spring futures begin to shape up following the report.

That’s further supported by the slow placement rate in the feedlot sector. September placements were just slightly over 2.0 million head – that’s about equal with last year’s mark. However, one month doesn’t equate to supply; more importantly, the three-month (July-September) total barely exceeds 5.5 million head and well off the pace of previous years (Figure 1). That will continue to help boost prices – in both the fed and feeder markets – during the remainder of 2013 and into 2014.

cumulative feedlot placements

Perhaps most interesting in all of this is that tighter supply in the feeding sector is NOT occurring because cow-calf producers are retaining heifers. October’s Cattle on Feed report also includes the quarterly assessment of inventory by class. Heifer inventory in feedyards remains consistent with previous years. At least early in the fall run, all indicators are that heifer retention is not underway (see this week’s Industry At A Glance).

This is an exciting time in the beef industry. It’s hard to imagine that in December 2009, the fed market traded under $80. Who would have ever thought we’d have a run exceeding $50 in less than four years’ time? Stated another way, that’s equivalent to the market gaining over $1/cwt. each month since that time. Clearly, though, higher prices don’t always mean better profits.

That’s probably best represented by Figure 2. Historically speaking, higher fed markets tend to attract cattle into the feedyard, and serve to build inventory over time. However, in recent years, feedyard inventory has declined despite the steady, persistent grind higher. That speaks to challenges around profitability and procuring feeder cattle. Meanwhile, the market trends also speak to several other factors from a broader business perspective.

cattle-on-feed monthly placements

• First, this industry has done a tremendous job of shoring up beef demand. In the midst of very difficult economic times, consumers have proven willing to pay higher prices for beef. But higher prices equal higher expectations – an emphasis upon quality and consistency remains essential.

• Second, it’s also made owning cattle a very high-stakes game. The capital-at-risk with each and every truckload continues to mount. This is not a business for the faint of heart – especially when considering the potential volatility that can occur on a weekly or monthly basis within commodity markets.  

As always, stay fully informed, and maintain objectivity around all aspects of the business! 

 

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Industry At A Glance: Heifer Portion Remains Steady Amidst Early Fall Run

heifers as a proportion of total onfeed population

Previous Industry-At-A-Glance charts have focused several times on the relative proportion of heifers in the feedyard. Most recently, that occurred following July’s Cattle on Feed report and quarterly updates regarding the respective make-up of the feedlot population. The July analysis of heifer placement patterns during the first half of the year yielded some insight into the potential placement dynamics going into the front edge of the fall run.

The front end of the fall run (July, August, September) is now over; early indications are that the heifer portion of the feeder cattle mix has remained relatively steady. In other words, producers don’t appear to be showing much proclivity toward retaining heifers either off the cow or grass during the early part of the marketing season.

October’s report reveals that heifers represent 36% of the total on-feed inventory – that number has remained steady during the past six quarters.

heifers on feed

There continues to be lots of discussion around higher prices and the apparent incentive to rebuild the cowherd. However, early indicators suggest that doesn’t appear to be the case. Producers don’t appear to be settling into the commitment associated with heifer development.

Clearly, that has some important implications. Also, this could change as we get into the heart of the weaning and marketing season during October and November. Perhaps January’s report will provide a different perspective.

So what about you? Are you planning on keeping back more heifers this year? What about your neighbors? Alternatively, how do you perceive the attitude among producers out in the country about rebuilding the cowherd? Even with lower feed prices and higher cattle markets, what factors do you perceive as important that continue to hinder cowherd expansion? Leave your thoughts below.   

 

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Retailers urge action to combat patent troll demand letters

Retailers, advertisers and marketers called on Congress today to involve the Federal Trade Commission in efforts to eliminate frivolous patent lawsuits, saying vague letters sent out by “patent trolls” demanding licensing fees amount to unfair and deceptive practices.

“Patent trolls should not have free rein to assert expired patents, make repeated and false threats of litigation to extort fees, and materially mislead the recipients of these demands,” BrandsMart USA Executive Vice President Larry Sinewitz said. “At the very least, patent trolls should be required to provide more details in their letters.”

Sinewitz, whose electronics and appliances retailer operates 11 stores in Florida and Georgia and maintains an e-commerce operation, testified [PDF] today on behalf of the National Retail Federation and the Stop Patent Abuse Now (SPAN) Coalition during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on patent abuse. The hearing focused on “demand letters” sent by patent trolls, which critics say attempt to extort large amounts of money while providing little information about the patent involved or the alleged infringement.

Sinewitz said his company has received six demand letters in the past several years, citing a two-paragraph document [PDF] received in 2008 as an example of “a vague letter accusing me of patent infringement and trying to get me to pay them some unknown sum of money.” Just initially consulting a patent attorney to determine what claims are being made can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars. Over the past 10 years BrandsMart has spent $500,000 on legal fees and settlements with patent trolls, he said.

Sinewitz called on lawmakers to include a provision in pending patent reform legislation that would require the FTC to investigate demand letters and use its existing authority to regulate unfair and deceptive trade practices to “rein in bad actors that target Main Street businesses.”

“Requiring greater and truthful disclosure will provide greater certainty to businesses, saving them time and money as they investigate the person or entity asserting the patent and determine the overall merits of the infringement claim,” he said.

Sinewitz said claims seen from patent trolls involve not just e-commerce applications but everyday business operations and practices of brick-and-mortar stores, such as scanning barcodes, printing receipts, the sale of gift cards and the connection of equipment such as computers and printers to an Ethernet network.

As the world’s largest retail trade association and the voice of retail worldwide, NRF represents retailers of all types and sizes, including chain restaurants and industry partners, from the United States and more than 45 countries abroad. Retailers operate more than 3.6 million U.S. establishments that support one in four U.S. jobs – 42 million working Americans. Contributing $2.5 trillion to annual GDP, retail is a daily barometer for the nation’s economy. NRF’s This is Retail campaign highlights the industry’s opportunities for life-long careers, how retailers strengthen communities at home and abroad, and the critical role that retail plays in driving innovation. www.nrf.com

Rodeo team makes its debut at Univerity of Kentucky

There’s a new team on the roster for the University of Kentucky, one with barrels, bulls, roping, wrestling and a whole lot of enthusiasm by a group of students who have worked hard to put their dreams into reality.

Housed within UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment student organizations, the UK Rodeo Team joins an accomplished stable of equine clubs and teams available to UK’s student body. The team practices at Kismet Farm in Paris and is open to all students, with or without prior rodeo experience.

The team’s stated mission is to promote and develop the sport of rodeo at UK, providing students with the opportunity to further pursue this sport educationally and competitively at the intercollegiate level. 

“I am really excited that this has become an opportunity for our students to learn about the sport of rodeo,” said equine science and management junior Kyle Karadak, the team’s vice president and one of its founding members. “Since rodeo showcases a different perspective of the horse industry from what is typically known in Central Kentucky, we hope the team will help broaden students’ awareness and give them a unique experience they can use in the future.” 

One of the main goals of the team is to give its members the chance to participate in activities covering every aspect of the rodeo industry, from learning about rodeo in general to competing as part of the team. The team plans to become part of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association in 2014, and organizers are using 2013 to form the team and recruit members. 

“I’m so proud of our students for their initiative and proud to serve as their advisor,” said lecturer and internship coordinator, Elizabeth LaBonty. “Rodeo is such a great sport and it offers tremendous opportunities for our students to learn, compete, have fun and build relationships with each other and the community.” 

Dues start at $25 a semester. Additional fees depend on the specific event students choose.  Barrel racing, roping, goat tying or steer wrestling cost $150 per semester. Bull riding starts at $500 per semester. 

The team has already lined up one fundraiser. In conjunction with the Oleika Shriners Rodeo at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena Nov. 22-23, Lexington’s Austin City Saloon will be giving a portion of its cover charge proceeds to the UK Rodeo Team. 

“We’re excited to meet everyone who wants to support the UK Rodeo Team at Austin City Saloon,” said LaBonty.

Those interested in learning more about the team can email [email protected] Information about the team, including upcoming clinics and events, can be found by visiting http://equine.ca.uky.edu/node/321

Farm Bill & Trade Important To Advance Meat Exports

Officials with the U.S. Meat Export Federation Tuesday said meat exports are looking good for the year, but absence from Russian markets, along with BSE barriers in China and Australia, continue to be a hurdle to further trade expansion.

The officials met as part of the organization's Strategic Planning Conference in Ft. Worth, TX Nov. 5-7.

A quick review of the year thus far reveals that while Russia and China have presented barriers, market access for U.S. meat in Japan and Hong Kong, along with strong prospects for trade deals, have provided U.S. producers and exporters significant opportunity.

To read more about meat exports, click here.

 

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3 News Items About The Atlas Blizzard

3 News Items About The Atlas Blizzard

It’s been about a month since the October blizzard hit South Dakota, leaving tens of thousands of dead cattle in its wake. Since then, ranching communities have joined together to help support the South Dakota ranchers who were impacted by the storm. Since then I’ve received countless emails from friends, neighbors, FFA chapters and concerned ranchers from across the country who all want to help or are looking for information on charities they can be a part of.

So to answer many of the questions, I’ve put together another round-up of news items and fundraising events relating to the Atlas blizzard. Here are three you should know about:

1. Eat A Dairy Queen Burger To Support South Dakota Ranchers

Dairy Queen® restaurants in South Dakota have joined forces to help their neighbors who lost livestock during the October “Atlas Blizzard.” The DQ® Relief For Ranchers week will be Nov. 4 – 10. At least $1 from every burger sold at 34 participating Dairy Queen locations will go to the Rancher Relief Fund.”

 

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2. Yankton Livestock Auction Market Holds Roll-Over Auction To Support Ranchers

Last week, the Yankton (SD) Livestock Auction Market held a roll-over auction to support the ranchers impacted by the South Dakota blizzard. I have received reports that the sale raised close to $50,000. You can read all of the details about the auction and how local teens helped to support the cause here.

3. Taking Care Of Blizzard-Stressed Calves

South Dakota State University’s Adele Harty and Ken Olson have put together some tips for caring for calves that are stressed from the blizzard.

“With the early October blizzard and unexpected death loss, producers are forced to manage calves differently than they would traditionally. One of the areas that this is most obvious is weaning. It seems as though more cows were lost than calves, which means some of those calves have been weaned by the storm, adding stress to an already highly stressed animal. As a result, ranchers need to give some extra attention to these calves to ensure their health and nutrition in the coming weeks.”

Read the complete article of tips here.

Do you have any information to share about the Atlas blizzard? Share in the comments section below.

 

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