Turning the Cattle Market Loose

NEW ORLEANS (DTN) -- This week, some 7,000 cattle producers and industry partners and stakeholders rode into The Big Easy for the 125th annual meeting of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). The event was just getting underway as USDA released a new set of cattle inventory numbers, turning the market loose.

DTN analysts tracked the report, which showed the number of all cattle and calves down 3% from year-earlier 2022 levels, to 89.3 million head as of Jan. 1, 2023. All cows and heifers were at 38.3 million head (3% below 2022 levels), and beef cows were at 28.9 million head (4% below 2022). Beef replacement heifers, always a market signal to watch, were at 5.16 million (6% below 2022).

DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart summed up the situation well in a report from the Cattlemen's meeting, noting the numbers revealed were something "the cattle market has never seen before: a beef cow herd of 28.9 million head."

"Cattlemen knew that there were going to be significantly fewer beef cows reported in Tuesday's report than compared to a year ago, as a lack of profitability and severe drought conditions pressured ranchers to cull their cow herds dramatically. But what Tuesday's report solidifies is that not only do we have 'fewer' beef cows in the industry than compared to years past, but also that we have the fewest beef cows ever recorded," Stewart wrote in her report.

COMING TOGETHER

This was the kind of news needed to feed the optimism of cattle producers, who packed meeting rooms for the popular Cattlemen's College, which marked its 30th year.

A big emphasis was on topics to help with herd expansion. Sponsor Zoetis offered producers six educational tracks, covering areas of reproduction, herd health, nutrition management, the beef business, sustainable grazing and genetics.

The general session, which opened Wednesday to a standing-room-only crowd, brought surprise guest Archie Manning, football legacy, to the stage, along with a remote talk by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, who joined from his home state of Texas after ice storms kept him from traveling down to be with the group in person.

POLICY PRIORITIES OUTLINED

Even as markets dominated the meeting, the NCBA executive committee worked to approve new policy priorities for 2023, with an eye toward Farm Bill legislation.

NCBA President-Elect Todd Wilkinson told producers the focus for this year would be on increasing opportunities for producers and fighting to make sure the federal government doesn't damage the industry.

"Cattle producers have been caretakers of the land and livestock for decades and are committed to conserving this country's natural resources while producing high-quality beef," he said. Policy priority areas announced include the following:

-- Reauthorization of animal health provisions found in the 2018 Farm Bill and advocating for more funding of the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank to protect against Food and Mouth Disease (FMD). Here Wilkinson stressed, "American cattle producers are not going to be caught flat-footed -- we are laser-focused on reducing risk and having the strongest response with a stockpile of vaccines that we have been building up since the 2018 Farm Bill."

-- Protecting and funding EQIP, CSP, and other voluntary conservation programs that will incentivize science-based active management of natural resources.

-- Protecting the cattle industry from regulatory attacks under Waters of the United States (WOTUS), the Endangered Species Act, emissions reporting, and more.

For more coverage on the USDA report and the NCBA meeting, go here:

"Quality Opportunities in Beef Expansion" https://www.dtnpf.com/…

USDA NASS Jan. 1 Cattle inventory report: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Call the Market: The US Cowherd Now Has the Fewest Beef Cows Ever" by DTN Livestock Analyst ShayLe Stewart: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Ag Policy Blog: Cattle Contract Library Website Goes Live" by DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @myersPF

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