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Thursday, December 20,2007

Market provides hedging opportunity

by WLJ
July 23, 2007 Fed cattle trade was expected to move lower in most regions last week, although with the exception of a few scattered trades in the north at prices $2 lower than the previous week. Most trade was expected to wait until the release of last Friday’s cattle on feed and cattle inventory reports. Prices in the south, in particular, which were still $4-5 apart last Thursday, appeared to indicate late trade was likely. By mid-day last Thursday, there had been a few sales reported in Nebraska at $140, however, most feedlot showlists were still priced at $142-145 live basis, steady with prior week prices. The action on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) last week was lower in the live cattle pit Thursday in anticipation of lower cash trade. That said, the futures market was still trading at a premium, in some cases a significant one, to the cash market. Deferred months last week offered an excellent hedging opportunity for cattle feeders with cattle for the October through December fed market. “Current futures prices are even more optimistic than market fundamentals, scaling into hedging programs or contracting for slaughter steers and heifers to be sold in October through December looks like sound business management,” said Jim Robb, director of Livestock Marketing Information Center. Last Thursday, the market gave up some of the premium, however, prices for deferred months were still positive. August dropped 55 cents to $90.82. October contracts shed 82 points and December fell 62 points to close at $96.45 and $98.40 respectively. However, weakness was expected to be short lived ahead of USDA’s release of the two cattle inventory reports, which were expected to be supportive of the markets. In particular, the inventory report was expected to show that herd-building, typical for this point in the cattle cycle, has not occurred. This year’s calf crop was trimmed by sub-freezing temperatures during calving season. In addition, heifer retention has been hurt by drought in the southeast and calf prices which are making it attractive for producers to sell females into feedlots. The result will likely be a mid-year inventory report which shows near zero herd growth. Such a number will support both the live cattle and feeder calf markets which are already anticipating tight supplies ahead. On the other hand, beef movement out of packing plant cold storage has been mediocre for weeks and last week was no exception. Export products are providing support for the cutout values, while domestic demand lags. Last Thursday during early trade, the Choice boxed beef price dropped $1.16, to $142.36, while Select gained 19 cents to trade at $136.74. Movement was reportedly moderate with 115 loads of Choice cuts, 68 loads of Select cuts, 30 loads of trim and 39 loads of ground product heading for retail markets. Slaughter for the week through last Thursday remained robust with 504,000 head harvested, up from 497,000 head the previous week and 495,000 during the same period last year, showing that feedlots are doing a good job of remaining current and perhaps even pulling cattle forward. Meanwhile, the cow markets also remain strong. Last Thursday, cow beef cutout value shed 74 cents to trade at $114.76, while the 90 percent lean sold at $140.42 and the 50 percent trim remained near steady at $53.79. Continued strength in the cow beef market has supported the cull prices being paid in auction markets at the mid-$50 range for much of the year and prices are expected to remain strong into fall culling as consumer demand remains high for relatively inexpensive cow beef-derived products like ground beef. Feeder cattle Heavy feeder and yearling prices were the story of the week last week following strong video market sales on both Western Video and Superior. Prices for 900 lb. class cattle in the neighborhood of $1.10 were common at both sales. Light calves for nearby delivery, however, were discounted by buyers who aren’t ready to place them in feedlots. Relatively inexpensive grass is available in many parts of the country and buyers and sellers, alike, are taking advantage of the resource. Fall deliveries of calves also sold well with weaned calves in the 500-600 lb. range selling well, particularly at the Superior sale held in Steamboat Springs, CO. The prices paid for calves bodes well for producers who have consigned cattle to one of several upcoming video sales. Futures prices also indicate a solid market for feeder cattle through the end of the year. Last Thursday’s session on CME ended in mixed territory, with August and September contracts adding five points each to close at $115.45 and $116.47 respectively. October feeders were unchanged at $116.72 and November added 22 points, also ending at $116.47. Virginia Tech commodity marketing agent Mike Roberts encouraged feeder cattle buyers to lock in some price protection by hedging feeder purchases soon. Falling corn prices, which were spurred by improved moisture last week, continue to be subject to weather issues and will be for the next several weeks. The downward trend has allowed feeders to lock in supplies at what look to be good prices. With the wild fluctuations created by the weather market, it may also be wise to lock in near-term grain supplies at this time, according to Roberts. In auction market trade last week, the few reported sales with enough volume to call a trend were mostly higher as a result of the market fundamentals, including available grass and growing availability to stored forage. In El Reno, OK, last week, feeder steers were called steady to $1 higher, while heifer mates sold steady. Steer and heifer calves were steady to $2 higher in a light test on moderate to good demand. In West Plains, MO, last week, steers and heifers sold steady to $2 higher, with yearlings mostly $2 higher. Supply was called moderate and quality was reportedly down from previous weeks’ sales. Demand was also good as a result of good grass conditions, considering the time of year. However, demand was best for yearlings and weaned calves with at least one round of respiratory vaccinations, a trend which will become increasingly important as weaning time approaches. Farther north in Hub City, SD, compared to the prior week’s sale, feeder steers and heifers sold $2-4 higher on good demand in all classes. Offerings were made up mostly of load lots of feeders in larger consignments. On the West Coast, in Davenport, WA, no trend was available as a result of the light run for the week, however, trade was active with good demand for offered lots. Meanwhile, at Western Stockman’s Market in Famoso, CA, demand was called excellent for a good run of stocker cattle, with the best demand on the greener quality kind in the 500-600 lb. range. Feeder demand was called good, with a big string of Mexican steers sold to out-of-state buyers at excellent prices.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Beef Talk

by WLJ
July 25, 2005  At times we become so focused on issues that we simply miss activities (and sometimes new rules) being advanced in the beef industry. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has captured much of our attention. Prior to the NAIS, country-of-origin labeling (COOL), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a multitude of other marketing or health-related issues provided spirited coffee shop talk. Most of these issues impact the producer and may lead to the modification of the producer’s associated business and management practices. A new issue sleeping in the shadows for many cow/calf producers is waste management. Often perceived as simply a feedlot problem, many cow/calf producers have skimmed the information, setting the material aside for a rainy day. The information eventually gets lost in the stack. After reviewing much of the information, the Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) is applying for a permit from the North Dakota Department of Health for animal feeding. The DREC does affect the environment. We have animals confined for periods more than 45 days during the year and some of these cow/calf lots do not sustain normal forage or crop growth throughout the year. Bridget Johnson and Ron Wiederholt, area livestock nutrient management specialists for the North Dakota State University Extension Service, developed an assessment tool to help producers get a handle on what impact their livestock operation might have on their local environment. More than likely, most livestock producers, particularly cow/calf producers, are animal-feeding operations as previously defined. Let that be repeated: Most cow/calf producers are animal-feeding operations as defined by the regulations in their respective states. In large operations, those with more than 1,000 beef cattle, for example, size alone makes the operation a large, concentrated animal-feeding operation (CAFO). However, most producers will fit into either a medium or small animal-feeding operation (AFO) and may or may not need to modify the operation. It is important for producers to become knowledgeable about animal-feeding operations and ask for an assessment of their operation. Along with university systems, most livestock or producer organizations, such as the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, have information and people to help determine to what extent a beef operation impacts the environment. Medium or small animal-feeding operations, even those with one cow, may need a permit if the operation has a potential impact on the waters of the state. Like NAIS and COOL, the train is on the tracks and more than likely, as cow/calf producers, we are not the engineer. The regulations are still a year or two away, but there is no need to be caught short. For the center, like many operations, the early settlers located cattle in protected draws and coulees making winter feeding somewhat more pleasant and calf survival was enhanced. However, for now, many of the winter safe havens are simply conduits within a larger system of water drainage that ultimately affect the major water sources within the state. As a result, the center is moving cattle around, changing winter-feeding operations, keeping cattle on crop aftermath for longer periods and pulling cattle into more constructed windbreak systems in more exposed landscapes. These management changes create new challenges, including workload, more extensive feeding needs and greater calf death loss. These challenges have all pointed to more questions, but at least for now, the term “animal feeding operation” is taking on a new meaning. Make sure you read the fine print. May you find all your NAIS-approved ear tags. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/ 483-2045.)

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Black Ink

by WLJ
July 25, 2005  No doubt about it, the grill is hot. From the smallest hibachi to the titanic gas rotisserie models, Americans love to fire them up. Summertime sizzles, of course, but some folks even cook steaks under the stars in December. Flashlight and coat are optional, but flavor is a must. Any time of year, beef is king of the grill, with burgers and steaks dominating demand. Maybe it’s because of the nutrient density; the top source for protein, vitamin B12 and zinc, beef is also the third leading source of iron—and a whole lot easier to grill than cereal and grains. As producers, you know how good beef is for you. But you still like to hear people say good things about it, from the aroma to the taste, nutrition and satisfaction. Maybe you’re an expert in preparing home-grown cuts for guests, but the people who increased their demand for beef 25% over the last six years probably have less skill. Grilling is a casual task often reserved for men, the only time some of them cook unless you count reheating coffee in a microwave. A few are super patio chefs who know how to seal in the flavor with a hot fire and manage to achieve any desired degree of doneness with almost any quality beef. The rest fall short of ideal skills, but all want ideal results. We used to put more effort into “educating” consumers. It didn’t work so well, because those who cared enough or had time to learn already knew. The beef industry had to change to reach most consumers. That meant producing beef that is harder to mess up, even when the cook gets distracted by conversation or a ball game. A little education does work. Category-guided meat cases now sort offerings into those suitable for the backyard venue and those requiring more time-consuming methods. That keeps the least knowledgeable consumer from buying a package of round steaks to slap on the grill. But there is still a wide range of quality, especially among retailers who think their customers only care about price. In today’s economy, any beef represents more investment than less flavorful protein alternatives. But the beef industry is not well served by putting inconsistent, low quality grade cuts up against pork and poultry in a price war. The way to gain another 25% in consumer demand over the next six years is to deliver a great eating experience as often as possible, so people don’t waste their money and disappoint guests on that special occasion. The cattle markets know this. It is why value-based pricing offers a premium for beef with at least a small degree of marbling—the intramuscular flecks of fat in a beef cut that makes it taste good. To a large extent, the more marbling a steak has, the more goof proof it is on the grill, too. When only poorly marbled cuts are available, the average Joe tries to grill beef once in a while, but the kitchen boss will be afraid to rely on him and his average beef for the big moments. If you’ve had many backyard hamburgers of unknown quality cooked by nonprofessional chefs, you know steaks aren’t the only beef items that can use a little more moisture sealed in by higher marbling. When we can help turn Joe into somebody whose family and friends consider an ideal chef, we win more consumer demand for beef. That’s why the cattle you produce should finish and yield beef that delivers satisfaction as often as possible, even for the charcoal challenged. Get fired up to produce above-average beef that works for the average customer. That’s where the money is today, and where demand tomorrow will add more profit to your business. Next time in Black Ink, we’ll consider skeptics. Questions? Call toll-free at 877-241-0717 or e- mail steve@certifiedangusbeef.com. ("Black ink" is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther, industry information director for Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of WLJ or its editorial staff.)

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Comments

by WLJ
July 25, 2005 It was a big surprise when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull vacated the July 27 hearing regarding R-CALF’s lawsuit requesting a permanent injunction on live cattle trade from Canada. He said this decision was because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had not yet filed their opinion outlining the reasons behind the reversal of his prior decision to grant a temporary injunction that kept the border closed. By the looks of things, it appears this entire episode may be over. It would seem that going any further on this R-CALF v. USDA case would just be an exercise in futility since this thing would more than likely go back to the appellate court if Cebull made the wrong decision—to close the border again. This may be a graceful way out for Cebull. My guess is this judge just got handcuffed. The three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit determined that USDA did follow proper protocol in developing their import rule, and that nothing in their rule was “arbitrary” and/or “capricious” as R-CALF claimed, even though it took the agency two times to get the rule right. When it comes to herd health and human health, the debate seems a bit senseless for two reasons. One, we’ve been importing Canadian beef from cattle under 30 months of age for nearly two years, which neutralizes the human health issue. Then, the confirmation of the first domestic BSE case pretty much shoots the herd health issue out of the water—whether you like it or not, it did happen and, remember, BSE is not contagious. Now the question many are asking is, “What’s R-CALF going to do now?” Knowing that this next hearing was going to be an uphill battle, R-CALF may want to save their legal funds for another more winnable battle. Nearly everything that R-CALF does goes back to mandatory country-of-origin labeling (mCOOL). R-CALF, in their post-decision press release, said the decision by the Ninth Circuit makes mCOOL all that much more important so that consumers know where their beef comes from. They remain confident that USDA’s final rule was not justified, and that USDA did not provide sufficient justification for overturning a longstanding policy that protected both the U.S. cattle herd and U.S. consumers from the introduction of BSE. USDA’s final rule is based merely on a reinterpretation of existing science that has been around for years. USDA is motivated by political considerations of wanting to resume trade with Canada. I’ve been told that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ hearing on the issue was strictly business and the judges were swift and deliberate in their questioning. It wouldn’t seem that this court concerned themselves with political consideration, unlike Cebull. Meanwhile, packers are indeed shopping for cattle in Canada and it appears that trade is going to move at a fairly quick pace, even though the word is there aren’t many cattle to send. The second business day after the announcement, there were three loads of cattle that moved across the border—one load that crossed in New York, going to a Cargill plant, and two loads that crossed in Idaho, destined for Tyson’s Pasco, WA, plant. USDA sources have told us that the infrastructure is in place and the importers have to notify the proper border crossing that they are coming, which is part of the Bio-Terrorism Act. The shipment must include the health papers and the cattle are to be permanently marked with a “CAN” brand and transported in sealed trucks. Since Canadian beef has been crossing for some time, and the boxed beef cutout has already reflected that supply, it would appear that cattle markets may not experience that much pressure. Fed cattle were down $1, to $79, but the current fundamentals support that move. Feeder cattle have been more resilient that originally thought. The difference between Canadian fed cattle prices and U.S. prices has narrowed over the past several weeks, to about an $11 differential. Last January, the difference was about $25. Normally, there is about a $5-7 basis between the two markets, roughly the price of a truck ride. Trucking appears to be one of the issues that could regulate movement as there are few trucks available to haul cattle to the U.S. I have to suggest that the border is open for good to cattle under 30 months of age. The slaughter cow segment will go under a separate USDA rule at a later date. You can call it politics, big business or whatever you want, but the fact is that Canadian beef has been in the U.S. for some time, and now the cattle producing that same beef are on their way, and fed cattle are $80 without any help from Canada. — PETE CROW

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Canadian cattle reenter U.S.

by WLJ
injunction hearing vacated July 25, 2005 Canadian cattle started reentering the U.S. last Monday, four days after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction restricting those animals from crossing the U.S. border. A possible interruption of that movement was averted last week after a federal district court judge temporarily vacated the hearing that was scheduled on a permanent injunction request against Canadian cattle and beef. Judge Richard Cebull, Billings, MT, last Wednesday delayed indefinitely a hearing on the suit that would bar USDA from allowing Canadian cattle and beef imports. In his written order, Cebull said he was awaiting the final opinion from the Ninth Circuit Court concerning the overturning of a previously approved temporary injunction against Canadian cattle. “It is hereby ordered that oral arguments set before this Court on July 27, 2005, is Vacated until further order of the Court. After receipt of the Court of Appeals’ Opinion, this court will determine whether further hearings are necessary,” Cebull’s announcement said. Cebull ordered the vacate order without a motion from either side of the R-CALF United Stockgrowers v. USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and USDA Secretary Mike Johanns lawsuit. The appellate court said on July 14 that it would release its final order on the decision to overturn the preliminary injunction in “an expeditious manner,” and “in due process.” The final order was not yet announced as of press time last Thursday. Attendees at the July 14 hearing in Seattle, WA, told WLJ that the three-judge panel appeared concerned that Cebull didn’t give USDA “just deference,” and that the injunction was possibly granted because of a difference in philosophy between the judge and USDA’s final import rule. The appellate court overturned a preliminary injunction that Cebull granted R-CALF. The cattle producer group sought to bar Canadian cattle from entering the U.S., saying they were a potential threat to the U.S. cattle herd because Canada had three cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy show up in native-born cattle. In addition, a fourth cow of Canadian origin was confirmed with the disease in Washington state in December of 2003. USDA was ready to reopen the border to Canadian fed and feeder cattle March 7, however, Cebull granted the injunction March 2. Both sides of the lawsuit said they were awaiting the Ninth Circuit order and that they would not respond to the court’s decision until the final reasons for the decision were known. Cattle crossing USDA officials said three loads of Canadian fed cattle crossed the border—one at Niagara Falls, NY, and two others through the Port of Entry at Eastport, ID—Monday, July 18, which was the first day live cattle imports from north of the border were allowed. As of press time last Thursday, those were the only reports of cattle crossing from Canada. “Right now the number is 115 animals have entered the United States,” said Ed Curlett, spokesman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), last Wednesday. “All came Monday (July 18). Thirty-five through Niagara Falls and 80 through Eastport.” The first load that crossed through Niagara Falls was bought by Cargill, for processing at its Wyalusing, PA, plant. The other two loads that day were bought by Tyson for its Pasco, WA, facility. Overall volume of cattle coming in was considered small, compared to how many could start entering the U.S. later this year, particularly during the fourth quarter. The influx of cattle was very slow due to extra rules in place for them. Officials with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reiterated that Canadian feeder and fed cattle need to be identified by both an official Canadian eartag and a “CAN” brand on the right hip. In addition, Canadian feedlots need to be certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for shipping only cattle that are 30 months of age or younger that are accompanied by the appropriate paperwork. That paperwork has to include the destination name, address, contact person, and all information regarding the cattle being transported, including lot size, tag numbers, age verification and where cattle are being shipped from. A statement saying the cattle have been kept in Canada the 60 days prior to date of shipment to the U.S. must also be signed. In the case of Canadian feeder cattle, they must be shipped directly to a USDA-certified feedlot who agrees that those cattle will remain at that feedlot until being shipped off for slaughter at the age of 30 months or under. The feedlot must also agree to ship all Canadian cattle for slaughter separate from U.S. cattle. “Canadian bovines must be moved as a group of Canadian bovines to the slaughter establishment,” the final APHIS rule says. “U.S. and Canadian bovines cannot be shipped in the same vehicle to slaughter.” The small volume of cattle entering from Canada last week was said to be the result of CFIA and USDA still certifying feedlots and packing plants for acceptance of Canadian cattle. In addition, CFIA sources said that a lot of the fed cattle for immediate slaughter were not yet “CAN” branded. Feedlots were wanting to wait a few days after that process to ship their cattle due to excessive stress and weight loss. Extra stress can be responsible for an increase of “dark cutters,” which are docked significantly by processors. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor © Crow Publications - Any reprint of WLJ stories, except for personal use,  without permission, written consent and appropriate attribution is prohibited. ©1996-2005 Crow Publications. All rights reserved.  

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Market Advisor

by WLJ
July 25, 2005 The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) has modified the way it computes its feeder cattle index. The change will affect the August 2005 feeder cattle futures contracts and all subsequent contracts. Two specific changes were made to the index calculations. First, USDA medium- and large- frame Number 1 and 2 steers have been added to the previous category of medium-and large-frame No.1 steers. Second, the weight range for feeder steers has been expanded to 650 to 849 pounds, from 700 to 849 pounds. The changes were made to increase the total number of price observations available to compute the index. The addition of the 1 and 2 steer category likely will have a downward impact on the index because No. 2 steers usually sell lower than the No. 1 category. However, the addition of 650- to 699-pound steers will tend to have an upward effect on the index because those steers typically sell for more than their heavier weight counterparts. The CME feeder cattle index is important. Instead of actual delivery to settle an open contract, all open contracts after the termination of trading on the last Thursday of the contract month are settled using the index price for that day. The index is a proxy for the cash market. The index and the closing futures price at contract maturity can be expected to be equal or within a few cents per hundredweight (cwt.) of each other. The feeder cattle index is based on all feeder cattle auctions, direct trades, video sales and Internet sale transactions within the 12-state region of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming for which prices are reported by federal and state market reporters. The seven-day index is calculated Monday through Friday. The change actually was implemented during the first week in June. The new categories were added on June l and by June 7, the index included all observations from the new categories. An important question for producers who may be contemplating using CME futures or options, or the new Livestock Risk Protection insurance, is how the changes will affect the basis for feeder cattle to be sold in the future. Basis is the difference between a local cash market price and the index. I did a quick comparison of the daily observations for the old index with what the new index would have been for 2001 through 2004. The new index averaged 24 cents per cwt higher for that four-year period. The relatively small difference could be expected because of the downward and upward price impacts that were added to the index. Feeder cattle futures contracts are available for January, March, April, May, August, September, October and November, so those average monthly differences also were calculated. The new index averaged 68 cents per cwt higher for January, 73 cents for March, 67 cents for April and 15 cents for May. However, the new index averaged 11 cents per cwt lower than the old index in August, 3 cents in September, 29 cents in October and 6 cents in November. In December, the new index moved back above the old by 15 cents per cwt. Feeder cattle hedgers may see the basis decline about 70 cents per cwt. in January, March and April, with negligible changes likely in other contract months. The quality and geographic location of an individual producer’s feeder cattle still will be more important in estimating the expected basis level than the small differences between the two indexes. For example, the average basis for 700- to 849-pound, medium- and large-frame No. 1 feeder cattle sold at the six markets reported in North Dakota historically has been very close to par (cash = index) at contract maturity. However, the range in cash prices has averaged about $8 per cwt., with higher priced cattle selling $4 per cwt above (plus $4 basis) the index and lower priced cattle bringing $4 per cwt below (minus $4 basis). The challenge for producers is to know how their feeder cattle sell compared with others when they are marketed. Granted, that can be difficult due to the many factors that affect the market prices of feeder cattle. — Tim Petry, Livestock Marketing Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Feeder cattle contract prices set new highs

by WLJ
The fed cattle market last week was slow to start with many analysts calling for a trend steady to perhaps slightly lower than the prior week’s trade of $90 live basis in the southern Plains and $88-89 live and $140 dressed in the north. There was some light dressed trade last Thursday in Nebraska at $138, but not enough to call a trend and most feedlots were holding firm at $140, while bids in the south were in the $87-88 range. The recently released USDA cattle on feed report provided ample support last week for the marketing of fed cattle at higher prices in the near future. The report shows there continues to be a shortage of cattle which will be ready for marketing in the fourth quarter of 2007. Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center, pointed out last week that the industry is on track for a new record high annual average fed cattle prices this year, which is a big positive for the industry in light of the surge in corn and calf prices over the past year-and-a-half. With a short calf crop this year and low inventory numbers, it will be important for the industry to maintain those kinds of prices. Last week, news that Swift and Company would be adding another shift at its beef plants and increasing kill levels significantly, perhaps as much as 2,000 head a week, indicated that packers might face increased competition for slaughter-ready cattle in the year ahead as new owners JBS S.A. begin to map out their operations’ plan for the company. The increase in chain speed at Swift will prove to be a boon to feedlots if it comes to fruition. The increase in packer competition for supplies of cattle will certainly provide a boost. What that increase in slaughter will do for boxed beef cutout values will be another matter entirely. Unless JBS can find an export market for the additional beef, it could serve to drive domestic prices lower as it floods onto an already soft U.S. market. The boxed beef values continued to slip lower last week as a result of lackluster beef trade at the wholesale level. Competing proteins at lower prices and a lack of consumer buying interest is pressuring the cutout lower. The end meats, such as the chuck, are moving well into the export markets and providing some support. A weak U.S. dollar is adding encouragement, but the middle meat trade has been soft for several months as consumers opt for less expensive product at the retail level. Analysts now are hopeful that end of summer buying, for school lunch programs and Labor Day grilling, will pick up soon to boost the Choice values which, last Thursday, were trading at $140.32. Select boxed beef was down slightly during the day at $134.53. Cattle slaughter for the week through last Thursday was at 498,000 head, 6,000 fewer than the prior week and 3,000 more than the same period in 2006. Cow beef on the other hand remains the bright spot in the beef trade, with the cutout remaining strong at $114.74 with good movement last week. The 90 percent lean was trading at $141.11 and 50 percent trim at $49.07. Those prices come in the face of heavy beef and dairy cow slaughter this year. The futures markets last week confirmed the strength in fed cattle markets out through the fourth quarter and into next year, illustrating the hedging opportunities available. Live cattle contracts ended the day last Thursday in mixed territory. The spot month August contract closed five points lower at $92.02, while October gained 35 points, closing at $97.20. December was also five points lower, ending the session at $99.02, while February gained 22 points and April added seven points, closing at $99.42 and $99.35 respectively. Feeder cattle Feeder cattle contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange last Thursday were also mostly higher with only the March ’08 contract losing ground. August feeders added 50 points during the session to close at $116.35, while September calves were up 20 points, closing at $117.05. October contracts were 25 points higher, while November added 30 points, closing at $117.27 and $116.80 respectively. Feeder cattle contracts last week set new highs across the board following the release of USDA’s cattle on feed report, July 20. The apparent dip in the number of beef cattle in the U.S., along with a very small 2007 calf crop, added support for the upward movement in contract trade. On a cautionary note, Robb noted that dry conditions which have been resulting in a dip in pasture ratings across the central and northern Plains could send heavy calves and long yearlings to market sooner than normal unless there is an increase in monsoon flow across the area in the next few weeks. “Pastures in western Nebraska and the Dakotas are going to start drying out really fast, and that may force out the cattle that would traditionally come to market in late August and September,” he said. As cattle producers gear up for another round of big video sales this week in Winnemucca, NV, at Superior’s Video Royal XV sale, prices look to be good for cattle on offer. Last week’s cash trade was mostly higher in auction market trade. In Oklahoma City, OK, last week, feeder steers and heifers sold steady to $3 higher. Steer and heifer calves were lightly tested and steady on demand that was called good for all classes. Quality was reported to by typical for a summer sale with several Brahma crosses and light muscled cattle included in the mix. In West Plains, MO, compared to the previous week, steers and heifers sold fully steady, with some instances of $1-2 higher on moderate supply and good demand with most buyers bidding fairly aggressively. At Bassett, NE, last week’s special barbeque sale brought prices which were called fully steady with the previous special sale two weeks earlier. Both yearlings and weaned, fall calves were included in the run and quality and demand were both reportedly good. Meanwhile, In Hub City, SD, compared to the previous week, feeder steers and heifers sold $2-4 higher, with good demand in all classes. According to market reports, offerings were made up mostly of load lots of feeders in larger consignments. Farther north and west, feeder cattle runs continue to be seasonally light, however, in California, good numbers continue to come to market with prices remaining strong for offered lots. In Galt, CA, feeder steers and heifers in all classes trended steady during last week’s sale. At Famoso, CA, stockers and feeders were $2-3 higher last week. Demand for stocker cattle was good for quality greener kinds. There was also lots of demand for quality feeder cattle on offer.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

GUEST opinion

by WLJ
—Congress needs to repair several flaws before COOL’s 2008 effective date. Congress passed a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law for many fresh meat products as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. Its implementation has been delayed a number of times, mainly because of the logistical nightmares it will create for the livestock industry. NCBA (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) members do not oppose the concept of COOL. We raise the safest and best beef in the world, and we are proud to put a USA label on it. But specific flaws in the 2002 law are harmful to cattlemen, which is why NCBA has made several efforts to fix the statute. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to do so, and we are all out of reprieves. Mandatory COOL is going into effect in September of 2008—there’s just no way around it. This gives us very little time to persuade Congress to address the shortcomings of this law. But that’s exactly what we need to do, and we need your help. How is the law flawed? There are numerous deficiencies with the current COOL law, but let’s focus on the major problems: Poultry is completely exempt That’s right—our number one protein competitor is totally exempt from COOL. Proponents will say the United States does not import a lot of fresh poultry. That’s true, but that’s not the issue. By exempting all poultry, we allow the industry with which we compete most fiercely to completely avoid the costs and regulatory burdens of COOL. In terms of enjoyment and flavor, Americans have repeatedly expressed a preference for beef over chicken. But we all know it’s difficult for beef to compete with chicken on the basis of price. This gets even harder when we are saddled with the additional regulatory burdens and costs of COOL, from which poultry escapes completely. Foodservice is exempt Over half the beef consumed in America is not prepared at home—but rather in restaurants, hotels and cafeterias. For imported beef, the percentage is drastically higher. So where is the logic in having a grocery store meat case in which almost every single package of beef is labeled “product of USA,” while none of the beef served in a steakhouse, fast food drive-thru, or the local bar-and-grill is labeled at all? If COOL is really all about informing consumers, this law falls woefully short by exempting the venues in which most imported beef is sold. Record-keeping nightmares for cattlemen Proponents of mandatory COOL would have you believe this law places a burden to prove origin on importers, but not on domestic producers. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The requirement is placed squarely on retailers to prove that any product with a USA label is legitimately born, raised, processed within our borders. The retailer has no choice but to push this burden downstream to the processor, and the processor will do likewise to the cattle producer. Already we’ve seen information emerging from the packing and retail sectors about the paperwork required to market cattle under this law, and it’s not a pretty picture. It’s extensive and expensive—and it starts now, because there is no exemption for cattle born before the effective date of the law. So calves born this spring—if they are to be slaughtered in the fall of 2008—are included. They can’t make me do that…can they? It’s easy to go on the defensive and say that packers and retailers can’t impose extensive paperwork requirements on you just to prove the origin of your cattle. Well that’s true, they can’t. But they can refuse to buy them. Or they can offer you a much lower price than they pay for cattle that meet all the requirements. NCBA supports voluntary efforts by cattlemen to source-verify their cattle, but has worked hard to keep mandatory animal ID from being forced on the nation’s cattle producers. But unless Congress takes steps to fix it, this flawed COOL law could end up being a back-door route to mandatory animal ID. If someone tells you this can’t happen, ask them to show you the part of the mandatory COOL law that protects you. There is none—it doesn’t exist. COOL does not equal food safety A number of food safety issues have emerged recently involving imported products, and this is sometimes used as a justification for the COOL law. But COOL does not improve food safety, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. Food that does not meet U.S. health and safety standards should not be sold here—period! Putting a label on an unsafe product doesn’t help the consumer one bit. These products must be taken off the shelves and discarded, not given some sort of an “eat-at-your-own-risk” label. These are the major reasons Congress must revisit and amend the mandatory COOL law. In its present form, it is simply too flawed to be beneficial to cattlemen or the consumers we serve. Nor can these problems be adequately addressed through agency rules and regulations. USDA has re-opened a comment period on COOL, but a regulatory agency is very limited in its ability to fix problems through regulations, when an underlying statute is so badly written. As we try to persuade Congress to fix the COOL law, time is short and opportunities are limited. The House version of the 2007 Farm Bill may be our only hope. House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson is a staunch supporter of COOL, but he does recognize many of the shortcomings in the current law. As House committees begin their markups of the Farm Bill, we need the House leadership to step up and make the necessary corrections. Surprisingly, NCBA won’t have a lot of help in getting this law fixed for cattlemen. Some groups that claim to support cattle producers are so infatuated with the idea of seeing COOL take effect, they are choosing to ignore the numerous problems in the law. They just want a COOL bill—and, apparently, any bill will do. The misinformation they spread on this issue—and their misleading denial of this law’s flaws—won’t make fixing it any easier. So we need you to reach out to your congressman, and it must happen soon. Visit www.beefusa.org for more details on how you can help fix COOL. — Steve Fogelsong [Steve Foglesong is a cattle producer from Astoria, IL, and chairs the Policy Division of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.]

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Thursday, December 20,2007

—New law provides labeling, while reducing record keeping requirements and

by WLJ
As a part of its enormous 2007 Farm Bill proposal, the House Ag committee passed a modified mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law two weeks ago after a late night session. The revised program put forward by the committee creates a labeling program similar to that required by the school lunch program. According to the COOL language in the bill, it provides for three categories of labeling. One that indicates the product was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; one that indicates product was not exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; and one that includes products entirely from other countries. For ground meat, products can be labeled with a list of countries where product may have originated. In addition, the regulations provide a grandfather clause for cattle in the U.S. prior to Jan. 1, 2008, omitting them from any required COOL documentation. Perhaps most importantly, the modified version doesn’t create any additional record keeping for livestock producers.  What remains to be seen is what language will be required on the actual label itself if the program makes it intact through to the president’s desk for a signature. However, the proposal still has a long way to go before becoming law, including a full debate and vote in the House of Representatives and a conference committee where the House and Senate will hash out a program that will likely be a compromise between two Farm Bills. The Senate Ag Committee is running behind schedule and announced last week that it will not be ready for a vote on a Farm Bill proposal until September. Senate Ag Committee Chair Tom Harkin, D-IA, said last week that he envisions a very different version of the bill coming from the Senate, which could include different plans for COOL. Harkin expressed surprise at the House’s version of COOL following its passage. Other senators also took action on COOL last week. In fact, last week, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD, managed to pass an amendment to the fiscal year 2008 ag spending bill which includes a provision that establishes benchmarks for USDA’s implementation of mandatory COOL and reaffirms the program will take effect on Sept. 30, 2008. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) members, who were attending the groups’ mid- year meeting in Denver, CO, when the House compromise was struck, expressed at least partial satisfaction with the new requirements after arguing that the version passed as part of the 2002 Farm Bill was too cumbersome for the industry. “We support the concept of country-of-origin labeling, but NCBA has contended for many years that a poorly written COOL law will be harmful to the U.S. cattle industry,” said Jay Truitt, NCBA vice president of government affairs. “Our top priority from the beginning has been that the benefits of COOL must outweigh the costs for cattle producers. We took some major steps in that direction last night.” He cautioned, however, that the latest version of COOL is far from perfect. Poultry is still completely exempt from all requirements imposed on beef, pork and lamb. This is a major disappointment for cattlemen because poultry is beef’s primary protein competitor in the consumer marketplace. “Perhaps when COOL takes effect, consumers will wonder why beef is labeled, but not chicken. Cattlemen have been wondering that same thing throughout this process,” Truitt said. NCBA’s final objection to the COOL law is the misconception that it will address food safety issues. NCBA President John Queen, a North Carolina cattle producer, said labeling is not a solution to recent safety problems with imported foods.  “Any product that does not meet the health and safety standards of the United States should not be sold here—period,” Queen said. “Don’t put an ‘eat-at-your-own-risk’ label on it. It has no place on our stores shelves. Turn it away at the border, or throw it out.” Not suprisingly, R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America also welcomed the passage of the program. After the announcement, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard also noted the improvement in the bill which eliminated the burdensome record keeping requirement for the industry. This has been a key sticking point for producers and packers alike. “Only cattle born, raised and slaughtered in the United States will qualify to receive the ‘Product of the U.S’ label, and there is no doubt that our members have played a significant role in defending country-of-origin labeling, so it’s a tremendous victory for R-CALF,” Bullard said. “This combination of grassroots lobbying and national attention quickly eroded the anti-COOL efforts of meatpacker trade associations.” Bullard said passage of the bill despite strong opposition from packing industry lobbying groups, as well as others who opposed the program in its original form, was the direct result of the efforts of National Farmer’s Union and R-CALF membership as he thanked Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, and leaders of the National Farmers Union, who Bullard credited with helping to craft the legislation.  Although the House Farm Bill package was still being debated on the House floor last week, Peterson said last week he did not foresee that challenges to the package forwarded by the Ag Committee would be successful, saying that his committee had worked closely with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, in crafting the proposal. “The speaker is involved in this,” he said during a press conference, July 20. “There may be amendments offered, but I don’t think they will be successful.” — John Robinson, WLJ Editor  

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Marston joins AHA

by WLJ
The American Hereford Association (AHA) and Hereford World (HW) is proud to announce Andee Marston, Manhattan, KS, has joined the Hereford team. Marston will join the AHA/HW staff in August as the southeast region field representative. In this position, Marston will attend Hereford sales and events as well as assist breeders with marketing and genetic selection. He will also assist in educating members and commercial producers about AHA programs and other beef industry opportunities. He will serve as the communication link between AHA and breeders in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. “We are extremely pleased to be able to hire a high caliber young man like Andee as the southeastern field representative,” says Joe Rickabaugh, AHA director of field management and seedstock marketing. Marston has been involved in the beef industry since birth. His family has a registered Shorthorn operation near Manhattan. While growing up, he was active in the Shorthorn junior association and graduated from Kansas State University with an animal science degree. Since graduation, he has been involved in the seedstock industry, including assisting Jensen Bros., Courtland, KS, with show cattle management and its bull management and collection service. Most recently, he has been manager of Bohi Land & Cattle Co. Butler Division. Marston will be relocating to the Nashville, TN, area.

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