OMAHA (DTN) -- Tighter cattle supplies are expected to increase record feeder and fed cattle prices in 2024; pork producers will see better pricing conditions as well.
USDA's Livestock and Poultry Outlook for 2024 shows limited production growth in overall U.S. red meat and poultry in 2024 as the impacts of the multiyear drought continue to affect supplies of red meat and poultry.
"Cattle producers should be encouraged by Thursday's news as the market's strong fundamental outlook is again supported by thin numbers and impeccable demand -- which won't likely be tested until the cow herd begins to restock and supplies increase," said DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart.
"Hog producers were also gifted a favorable 2024 outlook as strong domestic and international demand should elevate prices in the year ahead."
USDA released its outlook report for different sectors of agriculture on Thursday as part of the USDA Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia.
CATTLE AND BEEF
Commercial beef production in 2024 is forecast at 26.19 billion pounds, down 3% from 2023. In the first half of the year, steer and heifer slaughter will reflect slightly higher numbers of cattle in feedlots at the beginning of the year, but production will fall as feedlot numbers diminish later in the year. Cow slaughter also is expected to decline due to lower investment and expectations that any response to improving returns or forage will likely cause producers to retain more cows later in the year. Heavier cattle weights will partly offset lower slaughter numbers.
The 5-Area steer price for 2024 is forecast at a record $180 per cwt, topping 2023's record of $175.54 per cwt. Cattle prices will be supported by tighter supplies of steers and heifers in feedlots as the year progresses and firm packer demand.
Feeder prices are expected to top 2023's record prices as feedlots have to bid-up for tighter cattle supplies. Improved pasture conditions may lead to increased competition for lighter-weight cattle, increasing costs for stocker operations. Feeder steer prices for 750- to 800-pound calves in 2024 are forecast at $248.50 per cwt, up from $218.69 in 2023.
Higher prices are driven by lower cattle inventory. Cattle numbers again contracted in 2023, marking the fifth year of a smaller cattle herd. U.S. cattle inventory will likely decline further in 2024, USDA forecasts. The January cattle report estimated producers retained 1% fewer heifer replacements for the beef cow herd this year and fewer numbers of heifers are expected to calf in 2024.
The total number of cattle on feed in U.S. feedlots on Jan. 1, 2024, was 14.2 million head, still 2% higher than 2023, while the number of cattle outside of feedlots was about 4% below 2023 numbers. The tight supplies of cattle outside of feedlots point to lower placements and declining feedlot numbers throughout 2024 as a result. Changes in producer decisions concerning heifer retention over the year can reflect the level of heifers available for placement, but that then draws back to the fact fewer heifers were retained as well.
"USDA showcased a favorable market for cattle producers in the year ahead," said Stewart. "The report closely aligns with what we've already seen from current WASDE data and the Cattle Inventory report released almost month ago.
"The big-picture market take-aways highlighted that the reduction in the beef cowherd will keep marketing supplies scant in the year ahead and consequently drive both fed cattle and feeder cattle prices higher than 2023."
Imports of cattle are expected to rise to 2.05 million head in 2024, up from 1.98 million head last year. Although demand pull from the U.S. will be strong, imports will likely be limited by tighter cattle supplies in both Canada and Mexico.
BEEF EXPORTS LOWER, IMPORTS HIGHER
Beef exports are expected to fall in 2024 to 2.79 billion pounds, following 2023's decline of 14% in beef exports. Exports in 2023 were lower to Japan, South Korea, Canada, Taiwan and China, though there were increases in exports to Mexico and Hong Kong. Higher prices and increased supplies by competitors limited U.S. competitiveness while other countries also are facing sluggish economies. U.S. exports are likely to be pressured by tight U.S. supplies of beef and higher prices making U.S. beef exports less competitive. Beef production in export countries such as Australia and Brazil also are likely to increase competition in several markets.
Beef imports are pegged at 4.13 billion pounds, an increase of 11% in 2024, following 10% higher imports in 2023. While imports of beef from Brazil are constrained by over-quota duties, strong U.S. processing prices will continue to make the U.S. an attractive market. Higher production in Australia also is expected to drive more imports into the U.S.
HOGS AND PORK
Higher pig numbers in the second half of 2023 and first half of 2024 will boost commercial pork production to 27.88 billion pounds for the year, about 2% higher than 2023. Along with higher supplies, carcass weights are also expected to increase after declining in 2023.
National base 51%-52% lean high prices -- live equivalent -- are forecast to increase in 2023. Despite more hog inventory, expected increases in both domestic and export demand are forecast to provide support for higher prices.
"Hog prices are expected to average $60.00 per hundredweight in 2024, which is $1.41 more than what the market saw in 2023," Stewart said.
Pork exports in 2024 are forecast to increase about 4% to 7.08 billion pounds. Still, U.S. exporters will see increased competition in a number of key markets because of higher supplies in Brazil. Pork exports were 7% higher in 2023 to 6.82 billion pounds with higher volumes going to Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Central America and the Caribbean, offsetting an 18% decline in sales to China.
Pork imports are expected to rise in 2024 to 1.2 billion pounds, 5% higher than 2023 numbers.
OVERALL MEAT PRODUCTION
U.S. red meat and poultry production is pegged at 107 billion pounds, up from 106.9 billion pounds in 2023. Cattle supplies are projected to remain tight and support higher fed steer prices. Hogs and broiler prices also are expected to be higher in 2024 as domestic demand strengthens and export demand also absorbs higher supplies. Turkey prices, however, are forecast lower in 2024 because of weak demand that will offset reductions in production for the first part of the year, though turkey prices are projected to move higher later in the year.
The slight boost in overall red meat and poultry production comes after a decline of almost 1% in volume in 2023 to 106.9 billion pounds, the first decline in overall meat production since 2014. The decline was driven almost entirely by lower beef and veal production.
FEED PRICES TO DECLINE
A boost for livestock producers will come from feed prices, which are projected to fall slightly in 2024.
The average corn price for the first half of 2024 is projected at around $4.80 a bushel, but the 2024-25 crop is pegged at $4.40 a bushel, down 40 cents.
Soybean meal prices for the first half of 2024 will average around $380 a ton but are forecast at $320 a ton for the 2024-25 crop as greater crush capacity increases supplies of soybean meal.
Hay stocks on Dec. 1, 2023, were 75.7 million tons, 7% higher than 2022 stocks. A number of major cattle-producing states -- Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota -- had higher hay stocks, but still remained below historic levels and many cow-calf areas in the Southeast also reported lower hay stocks.
BROILERS AND TURKEYS
Broiler meat production will increase slightly to a record 46.8 billion pounds in 2024. Broiler exports are forecast to decrease slightly to 7.22 billion pounds. As in beef and pork, the U.S. will see more competition from Brazil, the largest exporter of broiler meat. The national composite wholesale broiler price is pegged at a record $1.27 a pound in 2024, up 3 cents from 2023.
Turkey production is forecast to decline 1% in 2024 to 5.4 billion pounds, mainly due to depopulations tied to highly pathogenic avian influenzas in late 2023 and early 2024. Turkey exports also will come in 5% lower at 515 million pounds.
Each of USDA's Commodity Outlook Reports can be viewed at https://www.usda.gov/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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