Fewer cattle foreshadow record-high beef prices

In this weekly Commodities Watch column, John T. Barone, president and commodities analyst for Market Vision Inc., offers a snapshot of the state of commodities for restaurants.

Fewer cattle foreshadow record-high beef and cattle prices for 2013 and beyond.

On Jan. 1 the U.S. cattle inventory totaled 89.3 million head, 1.7 percent below a year ago and the lowest since 1952. The 2012 calf crop was estimated at 34.3 million head, a decrease of 3 percent compared to 2011 and the smallest calf crop since 1949.

However, replacement heifers are a higher-than-expected 5.4 million head, an increase of 2 percent from a year ago. That means producers are at least in a position to begin expanding herds if they want to and if pasture/grazing land recovers this spring.

Japan announced it would permit the import of beef from cattle less than 30 months of age, compared to the previous restriction of 20 months. But the impact on beef exports may be small. Record-high prices in 2012, not lack of availability, limited Japan’s purchases of U.S. beef. Beef short ribs may be the one item to see a jump in exports and prices.

Contact John T. Barone at [email protected] [3].