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Feeder cattle steady to $4 higher

Test auctions saw a solid run of feeder cattle with 29,100 head. However, it was a little lower than last week, as well as last year. Prices continue to increase and were mostly steady to $4 higher. However the lighter weight stocker type cattle with much smaller numbers lately were steady to just a little weaker again.

Slaughter cow numbers at the test auctions continue to increase; some with 9,100 head this week. Prices also continue to climb and were steady to $3 higher with much more active bidding by packer buyers.


MORNING Midwest Digest, April 19, 2019

A black bear has been sighted around Decorah, Iowa. Urban populations seem to be seeing more wild animals.

It's been a scattered start to the planting season. In central Ohio, a planter was planting 110 acres an hour.

Be careful on the roads, as we share them with farm equipment this spring.


Photo: gui00878/Getty Images

Farm Progress America, April 19, 2019

Max Armstrong shares insight about Chapter 12 bankruptcy and how it works for farmers and fisherman. The program was created in 1986 as an emergency response during the Farm Crisis. The law became permanent in 2005, and a bill was recently released called the Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 that would raise the debt cap in Chapter 12.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: TheaDesign/iStock/Getty Images Plus

7 ag stories you might have missed this week - April 19, 2019

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Need a quick catch-up on the news? Here are seven agricultural news items you may have missed this week.

1. An analysis released Thursday by the International Trade Commission finds the United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement would boost the U.S. economy. The forecast estimated total U.S. dairy product output would increase by $226.8 million, or .1%. U.S. agriculture and food exports overall would increase by $435 million. – Reuters

2. Many ag producers are alarmed by signs the Trump administration would accept Chinese purchase target pledges for commodities like soybeans and pork without a promise to lift retaliatory tariffs. There’s also word that China is considering shifting its tariffs to non-ag products at the request of the Trump administration. The shift is because the U.S. doesn’t intend to lift its own duties on $50 billion of Chinese imports even if the two countries reach a trade agreement. – Farm Futures

3. Cover crop acres increased by 5 million acres from 2012 to 2017, according to the Census of Agriculture. In 2012, farmers planted more than 10 million acres of cover crops. In 2017, they planted more than 15 million acres. – American Agriculturalist

4. Optimism about export demand is driving hog prices higher in the United States. Pork exports are expected to set a record in 2019, even though exports did not start 2019 on a strong note. – National Hog Farmer

5. The central theme of the 2017 Census of Agriculture is the hollowing out of the middle. All categories of midsize farms declined over the past five years. The number of farm operations dropped 3.2%, while the average farm size increased by 1.6% to 441 acres. Industry consolidation continued. Farms of nine acres or less increased 22%. – The Washington Post

6. Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said moves by former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt contributed to less ethanol being blended in 2018 than in 2017. Shaw said that broke a streak of increasing ethanol usage that stretched back more than two decades. – Omaha World-Herald

7. Alan Roebke has a plan, the Roebke Plan, that he says can do for corn, wheat and soybeans what the sugar program does for Minnesota’s sugar growers. He calls for the federal government to raise commodity loan rates and increasing ethanol content in gasoline. – Duluth News Tribune

And your bonus.

A convoy of 52 trucks and trailers from four states carried hay, fencing, milk replacer, bagged feed, veterinary supplies and more to farmers impacted by flooding in Nebraska and Iowa. In Pennsylvania, farmers have donated more than 124 tons of hay for Nebraska producers impacted by flooding. – Ohio Farmer, American Agriculturalist

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, April 18, 2019

The majority of millennials still depend on their parents for financial support, according to a new survey from Merril Lynch.

A bi-partisan group of senators pushed the Army Corps of Engineers to explain why the Missouri River flooded so badly, questioning the priorities of the Corps.

Both President Trump and Mike Pence will be at the NRA convention next week.

South Dakota residents got brown snow the other day. Weather experts belive the brown came from topsoil in Texas, carried by the wind.


Photo: Lana2011/Getty Images

MORNING Midwest Digest, April 18, 2019

Federal prosecutors have charged 60 doctors and pharmacists with handing out opioids illegally.

A judge has sentenced a former Dupont manager for stealing trade secrets and sharing them with a competitor.

Four U.S. senators held a hearing in Iowa with the Army Corps of Engineers to find out why there was such a flooding issue.

South Dakota residents are talking about brown snow.


Photo: Charles Wollertz/Getty Images

Farm Futures Market Update

Farm Progress America, April 18, 2019

Max Armstrong worries caused by smuggled pork products entering the United States has raised the level of concern about African Swine Fever. The contraband pork products came from China, where ASF is a growing problem. The products were stopped and destroyed, never actually entering the country. The issue raises the need for all involved in pork production to be more aware of biosecurity.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Richard Johnson/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Thoughts on branding and African Swine Fever


Amanda Radke’s blog about branding time in a recent BEEF Daily conjured up a number of very good memories and one disturbing thought.

The disturbing thought revolves around African Swine Fever. It could very well be a “Black Swan” event that changes global protein supply and distribution in a highly disruptive way. However it plays out, the disease will put jet fuel under the debate over individual animal ID and disease traceability in the U.S.

Which brings us to branding One good memory that has stuck with me was a branding we “neighbored” when I was working on a ranch in Wyoming during my college years.

READ: BEEF readers split on animal ID

I was throwing and holding the calves that the ropers brought to the ground crew. But after a while, the owner of the neighboring ranch offered to let me rope. It was, as Amanda pointed out, a very high honor, especially for a green college kid.

I missed a few but, true to the moniker “two loops,” I caught my share as well. And I was riding an exceptional horse, quiet in the milling, bawling throng of calves and quick on his feet when I dallied and turned toward the ground crew.

Just thinking about it brings back a flood of wonderful memories. It was a traditional branding—the food was exceptional, the cowboys from the other ranches accepted me, even though I wasn’t near the cowboy that any of them were, and we went home tired, dirty and happy.

A walk down memory lane is great, and something we all need to do from time to time. But as I read Amanda’s blog, I reminded myself that the majority of calves marketed every year aren’t branded.

According to data from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), 24% of operations surveyed in 2009 used hot iron branding, accounting for 45% of the cattle and calves in the survey databank. Ear notches were used by 8% of operations on 16% of the cattle and freeze branding was basically nonexistent at 1% of operations and cattle.

The 2009 study surveyed operations in 24 states, so extending this over all 50 states indicates to me that the total figure is less. Somewhere around 30-35% sticks in my mind. We’ll have updated data in just a few months when NAHMS releases the results of its 2017 beef survey.

Those three—hot iron, freeze branding and ear notches—are the only way at present to permanently identify cattle. The practice is much more prevalent in the West where brand laws are in place, and much more prevalent on larger operations than smaller outfits.

And, of course, this dovetails with the current and ongoing debate over traceability and the updated Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program from USDA.

Bottom line: At some point in time, we’re going to have to find a way to permanently identify all cattle that go through the marketing system. We may not get there for a while yet, but we’ll get there. And maybe faster than we once thought.

READ: Will a true cattle traceability program please stand up?

Is branding the solution? I don’t know, but I doubt it. It’s great for herd identification and very useful in finding stolen cattle. But it’s not individual animal ID. Perhaps a better method will come to the fore.

USDA just announced the availability of $1 million in cooperative agreement funding to support animal disease traceability (ADT) and electronic identification for cattle.

According to the USDA release, the money will fund between two to five projects that will help USDA increase the accuracy, efficiency, and cost effectiveness of collecting key pieces of traceability information, while also supporting the cattle industry's management and marketing needs. These projects will document how to link ultrahigh frequency backtags with other identification devices to collect animal movement and disease program data while still maintaining the speed of commerce.

I suspect the debate over individual animal ID for disease traceability will heat up more quickly as the world fights to keep African Swine Fever from decimating hog populations and the U.S. fights to keep the disease from coming here.

Stay tuned.


A glance at grading trends: Quality rules the cooler

Nevil Speer Quality grade in 2019

Quality grading has been nothing short of phenomenal thus far in 2019. That’s somewhat surprising given the harsh weather and pen conditions during the past several months. Nevertheless, in the middle of March the percentage of Prime surpassed 10% of the total slaughter mix. That’s an extra 1.5% versus this time last year. 

Better yet, this year’s pace is double versus just four years ago in March. In other words, just since 2015, the beef industry has doubled its output of Prime while also ramping up total weekly production by over 60 million pounds. That’s a significant accomplishment in a very short period of time!  

To that end, one reader asked about the slaughter mix and the proportion that gets quality graded. In other words, is the reported percentage of Prime and Choice increasing simply because fewer carcasses are actually being presented to USDA graders? If that’s the case, the industry isn’t really improving - the improvement is just an artifact of a smaller mix that’s being graded.  

Nevil SpeerQuality grade in 2019

This week’s graph addresses that question. The data represent both the percentage of cattle being graded and the cumulative percentage of Choice and Prime within the mix.

The proportion of the slaughter mix being assigned a USDA quality grade has remained fairly steady at just slightly above 95%. Meanwhile, the share of Prime and Choice carcasses continues to climb, with the 12-month moving average now above 80%.

All that underscores the significance of grading improvements over time – it’s truly an industry-wide achievement. Clearly, that’s an important trend solidifying beef demand in recent years.  

Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, Ky. Contact him at [email protected]