The season-average prices for most U.S. agricultural commodities are on a decline that could persist into 2026, said a report from the FAPRI think tank at the University of Missouri. Global economic growth has slowed after a heady recovery from the pandemic in 2021, and world grain production is up this year, creating more competition for U.S. crops.
Drought and high feed costs have driven ranchers to send cattle to slaughter instead of keeping them for breeding, Reuters reports, shrinking the U.S. beef herd to its smallest size since 1962. As a result, meatpackers are paying considerably more for the cows they turn into meat, which cuts into their profits.
Grocery prices will rise 7.8 percent this year, three times the usual pace for food inflation albeit slower than in 2022, said USDA economists in the monthly Food Price Outlook.
Food inflation is down for the fourth month in a row, dipping to an annualized rate of 10.4 percent, aided by beef prices that are lower than a year ago, said the Labor Department on Thursday. President Biden said the 0.3 percent increase in food prices during December was the smallest in almost two years.
Lower beef prices helped pull down the food inflation rate to an annualized 10.9 percent in October, the second month in a row of a decline, said the Labor Department in the Consumer Price Index report.
The United States loses an average of 17,000 beef producers each year, said House Agriculture chairman David Scott in filing legislation that would increase USDA support of small producers and help them find local and regional markets for their beef. "We believe we are on the right track," Scott told reporters last week.
While supporting more transparency in cattle prices, the American Farm Bureau Federation draws the line at requiring meatpackers to buy slaughter cattle on the cash market, said president Zippy Duvall. Mandatory purchases are a prime feature of the leading Senate bill for cattle market reform.
A bill to require USDA reports on the number of cattle being delivered under contract for slaughter by meatpackers will be called for a House vote on Tuesday. It will be debated under provisions that prohibit amendments and require a two-thirds majority for passage, an approach usually reserved for bills that are noncontroversial.
In order to increase market transparency, four senators said on Tuesday they would file legislation to require meatpackers to buy a portion of their slaughter cattle on the cash market. The bill also would create a contract library that discloses the purchase terms that packers offer for cattle, so producers might know if a fair price is being offered.
Beef prices were 12 percent higher than a year ago, helping to drive overall food prices upward, said the Labor Department on Tuesday. The monthly Consumer Price Index report said food prices were 3.7 percent higher but the U.S. inflation rate slowed slightly in August.
Agricultural law expert Janie Hipp promised on Thursday to be "a big voice at the interdepartmental table" in dealing with cattle prices and biofuels if she is confirmed by the Senate to lead the USDA's legal shop. "I commit to you that I will get on this [cattle price transparency] as one of my very, very top priorities."
As an antidote for the dwindling cash market, the largest U.S. cattle group circulated a plan on Tuesday for meatpackers to voluntarily buy cattle on the spot market to assure fair and open prices, with the threat of mandatory disclosure if the systems fails. The so-called 75 percent plan by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association stood as an alternative to bills in Congress to require packers to buy as many as half of their slaughter cattle for cash.
Grocery store prices for meat are declining after their springtime coronavirus surge, but more slowly than expected, meaning that shoppers will pay noticeably more at the meat counter this year than in 2019, said USDA economists. In the monthly Food Price Outlook, the USDA forecast meat prices will rise 6.5 percent this year, more than double their usual rate.
As many as 18 percent of workers in meat and poultry plants are infected with the coronavirus in Iowa and South Dakota, while Pennsylvania and Nebraska account for one-quarter of the Covid-19 cases nationwide, said CDC scientists and state public health officials. The CDC released the report as Smithfield Foods, one of the giants of the meat industry, began to reopen a hog plant that was a coronavirus hot spot three weeks ago.(No paywall)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on social media Wednesday that an ongoing USDA investigation of beef prices will be expanded to include complaints about unfair prices due to the coronavirus pandemic. (No paywall)
Last week, several Midwestern feedlot owners along with the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that dominant meatpackers conspired to depress cattle prices starting in 2015. The case argues that JBS, Tyson, Cargill, and National Beef strategically cut back on open market cattle bids, closed plants, and imported costly foreign cattle in order to force farmers to accept lower prices and manipulate spot market cattle values.(No paywall)
Cattle prices are stronger than expected this year but they they are likely to run below 2017 levels, with the result that retail beef prices rise modestly, at most, said the monthly Food Price Outlook. The United States is headed for the third year in a row of lower than average food inflation - 0.5 percent compared to the 20-year average of 2.1 percent annually.
Big Ag is back on the offensive in Oklahoma, less than a year after voters defeated a bill that would have stripped the state’s residents of their ability to regulate corporate farming. The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association wants ranchers to pay an additional $1 tax per head of cattle sold in the state, and will hold a Nov. 1 vote on the tax for Oklahoma cattle producers. Family farm advocates say that much of the money collected under such checkoff taxes is funneled to private industry groups that use it to promote the interests of corporate agriculture over independent farmers.
Two-thirds of the way through 2017, the government says grocery prices are headed for a barely perceptible increase of 0.25 percent this year, thanks to lower red meat, egg and fresh produce prices. This year's marginal increase follows the first instance of retail food price deflation in half a century, the 1.3-percent year-on-year decline in grocery prices in 2016.