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Outlook: Cattle Prices Could Surpass $200 by Spring


Published: Friday, November 24, 2023

The beef demand success story of the past is also the industry's roadmap for the future, said speakers at this year's Feeding Quality Forum.

Certified Angus Beef (CAB) gathered cattle feeders, ranchers, allied industry and students at the 18th annual event, held Aug. 22-23 in Lincoln, Neb. The program covered everything from current market conditions and technology to price forecasts and advancements on the horizon.

"It's hats off to you as an industry for producing the right genetics, managing those correctly and bringing high-quality beef to the industry," said Glen Dolezal, Cargill Protein, warning he doesn't want to go backward as implant programs and new additives come on the market.

"I encourage you to be careful," Dolezal said.

Having the most accurate measures to evaluate carcass quality provides the best data possible to make those decisions. Bucky Gwartney, Agriculture Marketing Service, said most major packing plants use cameras to grade, sort or gather data in their operations today.

Rural locker plants may soon have greater access to the technology through a USDA pilot program that's currently testing a cell-phone-like device to capture ribeye pictures and call marbling scores.

"Technology is coming at us quick," Gwartney said. "It's going to be better than we've ever had, and I'm convinced it's going to be a mainstay of the grading program."

Learning more is a step to improvement. AJ Tarpoff, Kansas State University, and Lily Edwards-Callaway, Colorado State University, shared ongoing research to improve cattle comfort. They touched on bedding in the summer to cool the ground, changing diet makeup during heat events, and offering shade and water.

"It's not always a cost," Tarpoff said, calling cattle comfort an investment in productivity and grade.

Cattlemen can't control the environment, Edwards-Callaway said, "but we can control some of the things that you do to help promote that comfort for the animals and reduce that discomfort."

Good animal husbandry helps connect with consumers, too, she said.

"A lot of us have got really cool things we're doing by ourselves, but we're going to have to share some of that data, move it up chain efficiently and take advantage of that to get to that next step," said John Schroeder, Darr Feedlot, noting that's important to growing consumer confidence.

He, along with Jesse Fulton, University of Nebraska Panhandle Research & Extension, and Robert Wells, Noble Research Institute, participated in a stewardship panel led by Kirsten Nickels, CAB sustainability and animal care scientist.

"As long as we're good stewards to the land, good stewards of our herd, practice good stockmanship, we're going to be around for a lifetime," Fulton said.

Becoming more efficient and using resources carefully is one aspect of stewardship. Justin Sexten, Zoetis Beef, lead a discussion with Nebraska cattle feeders Joan Ruskamp, J&S Feedlot, Zack Lindsley, R&L Feeders, along with Karl Fox, who operates a family feedyard in northeastern Iowa. They talked labor and cost savings from using computer programs, advisors and some plain old creativity.

"I don't want my sons and daughters to take 30 years to learn. I want them to be better than me next year," Fox said.

Being flexible and adaptable is as important today as ever, said market analyst Dan Basse, AgResource Co.

"When you put geopolitical things, along with weather and the wars that are ongoing, you're ending up with extreme volatility in a lot of markets," he explained.

Basse predicted a range in cattle prices from $160 per hundredweight to $220 for a springtime high. He said the supply-driven bull market for cattle has "a lot of legs" because the cow herd is not in full expansion yet.

CAB is preparing for that supply crunch, said Sara Scott, CAB vice president of foodservice, noting her team connects customers with opportunities and drives home the message of value.

"When you talk about Certified Angus Beef as being 'beef insurance' for your kitchen, you don't have to worry about how the product's going to perform, and that's really what we've hung our hat on now for decades, is that consistency," she said.

That's a good plan to keep the long lens of beef demand on its current positive trajectory, said industry analyst Nevil Speer.

"More dollars coming into your business means more opportunities. It means more chances for young people to come back and be involved in this business," Speer said.

Keeping other families in business is motivational for TJ and Tiffini Olson, Round the Bend Steakhouse, near Ashland, Neb. They joined their foodservice distributor, Lane Rosenberry, Sysco Lincoln, to give a glimpse of their day-to-day and their closing message was one of gratitude.

"Without you all doing what you do in those cold, cold winter nights, caring for that one calf that drops —we understand that to a point, but never had to do that myself—but without that labor of love, we don't get to have what we have," TJ Olson said. "Thank you so much to each and every one of you for doing what you all do."

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