ERS Charts of Note
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Thursday, September 22, 2022
The stay-at-home orders implemented during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the U.S. meat and poultry industries as consumers shifted from purchasing food-away-from-home (FAFH) to food-at-home (FAH). In the weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the volume of meat sold in grocery stores fluctuated modestly from between 3 percent below to 8 percent above 2019 sales. When the WHO declared a global pandemic the week ending March 15, 2020, the quantity of meat sold at grocery stores increased sharply to 75 percent above that week’s 2019 sales volume. Meat sales reached their pandemic peak the following week at 84 percent above 2019 sales. This increase in retail meat sales was consistent with overall consumer patterns in March–April 2020, when restaurant closures led to a surge in FAH sales relative to 2019 as FAFH sales fell. After the peak, weekly meat purchases slowed yet remained roughly 30 to 40 percent above 2019 sales for most weeks until mid-May. Sales may have slowed partly because consumers had stocked up on meat supplies in the previous weeks and because FAFH expenditures rose as COVID-related restrictions were lifted. For the remainder of 2020, total weekly sales of meat at retail remained higher than weekly 2019 sales for most weeks. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 working paper, “COVID-19 and the U.S. Meat and Poultry Supply Chains,” published February 3, 2022.
Monday, August 15, 2022
Annual U.S. retail prices for beef and veal are projected to rise 6 to 7 percent in 2022 relative to 2021. In May 2022, the farmer’s share of the retail value of beef also increased year over year, but rising input costs, especially for cattle feed, may limit farmers’ ability to benefit from higher cattle prices. Based on the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) commodity cost and return estimates, feed expenses are the largest operating cost for cow-calf producers, comprising 75 percent of these costs in 2021. Prices for beef cattle feed were up 16 percent in May 2022 relative to May 2021. High fertilizer prices have contributed to increased feed costs while drought conditions have squeezed feed grain and hay supplies. The 2021/22 season-average farm price (SAFP) for corn—the primary grain fed to cattle—is currently projected at $5.95 per bushel, the highest SAFP since the 2012/13 marketing year. Like corn, the SAFPs for other feed grains including sorghum, oats, and barley are projected to increase in 2021/22 relative to 2020/21. The SAFP for hay, an important supplement to cattle grazing, is estimated to be 16 percent higher in 2021/22 compared to the average price over the preceding 9 years. As of August 9, 2022, it was estimated that 46 percent of hay is growing in areas experiencing drought. In addition to rising feed costs, elevated diesel fuel and farm labor costs have also put pressure on farmer margins. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, July 2022.
Friday, April 8, 2022
Imports of beef from Brazil have spiked in the last two years as U.S. demand for processing-grade beef has substantially increased. In January 2022 alone, imports reached nearly 100 million pounds—a more than 500 percent increase relative to the same month a year earlier—with fresh beef accounting for 83 million pounds. Historically, imports from Brazil primarily consisted of heat-treated beef products, including prepared or preserved beef. In February 2020, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service determined that fresh beef from Brazil was eligible for import. As a result, beef imports from Brazil have risen. Record high U.S. beef prices and drought-impacted supplies in Australia, where the United States would otherwise source beef, have also contributed to growing imports of processing-grade beef from Brazil. Further, in September 2021, China—the destination for more than 40 percent of Brazilian beef exports in 2021—temporarily embargoed imports of Brazilian beef based on animal health concerns. The embargo was lifted in December 2021, but not before some of Brazil’s beef was redirected to other markets, including the United States. Further increases in U.S. imports of fresh beef from Brazil are limited by the tariff rate quota system. Beef imported from Brazil enters the United States under the open quota system. Once the quota is filled, imports of fresh beef from Brazil would be subject to a higher tariff, reducing the beef’s competitiveness with sources from other countries. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s March 2022 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Monday, September 20, 2021
Reduced supplies and rising demand for ground beef in the United States could potentially be reflected in the cost of fall tailgating parties across the Nation. While the United States is a major global supplier of beef, it also imports beef and processing-grade beef (used for ground beef) to meet a growing consumer demand. Historically, Australia is the predominant supplier of processing-grade beef to the United States, with smaller amounts coming from Brazil, Canada, and New Zealand, among other countries. As Australia rebuilds its cattle herd after a two-year drought, suppliers in that country are curtailing slaughter, limiting the amount of exportable beef and increasing the prices of those exports. In February 2021, imports from Australia reached a price of $240 per hundredweight (cwt) for 90-percent lean beef, and the volume dropped to under 17 million pounds, almost 27 million pounds lower than the 5-year average. In July 2021, that price rose to $274 per cwt. From January to July 2020, beef imports from Australia accounted for 20 percent of all U.S. beef imports whereas in 2021 Australia accounted for 12 percent. Intermittent monthly imports from other countries have partly offset reduced imports from this key partner. Meanwhile, as the economy reopens, the demand for beef and ground beef is expected to support beef prices. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s September 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Monday, May 24, 2021
The United States is the world’s largest producer of poultry and beef and the third-largest pork producer. Abundant exportable supplies have enabled trade of major U.S. meats and products to run a continual surplus overall, with high demands for U.S. animal proteins in Asia and favorable trade agreements driving quantities exported above quantities imported for pork, broiler meat, and turkey. By volume, broiler meat (broilers are a subset of chickens) was the most traded U.S. meat in 2020. Exports of broiler meat accounted for 92 percent of total poultry (total chicken plus turkey) exports and exceeded imports by almost fiftyfold. Pork exports further contributed toward the growth in the meat trade surplus. In 2020, pork exports were sevenfold higher than pork imports, increasing more than 15 percent, or almost 1 billion pounds from a year earlier. In contrast, apart from 2018, the amount of beef imported by the United States has exceeded exports 7 of the last 8 years. Last year, U.S. beef exports declined more than 2 percent from a year ago, while beef imports rose more than 9 percent over the same period. This trade deficit reflects, in part, a robust U.S. demand for processing-grade beef. Turkey imports were up 72 percent and turkey exports were down 11 percent in 2020, with export levels resulting in a trade surplus for turkey. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Since 2000, U.S. imports of beef have represented about 11 percent of U.S. production and exports about 9 percent. U.S. beef trade is largely dependent on domestic production, and shocks to production can lead to a boost in import demand and a reduction in supplies available for export. The 2003 discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada and then in the United States disrupted beef trade in North America. As a result, U.S. imports of beef rose to record levels in 2004 and 2005. U.S. beef exports, however, plummeted as trading partners banned U.S. beef. Consequently, as trade barriers were resolved, U.S. beef exports steadily grew. In the late 2000s, drought conditions caused reductions in the U.S. cattle herd. The herd shrank to its smallest size since 1952, lowering beef production in 2014–15 to levels not seen in 20 years. In the second quarter of 2020, weekly beef production fell as much as 34 percent, compared with the same period in 2019, at facilities where operations temporarily closed or shifts were reduced as COVID-19 spread through their labor forces. In 2021, U.S. beef exports are expected to grow as a percent of production, while imports are expected to fall. This chart is based on data released in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, April 2021.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Despite shipping record-breaking volumes of U.S. beef to China from July to December 2020, the United States supplied only 1.3 percent of China’s total imports of beef. Beef-exporting competitors of the United States—Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay, and New Zealand—account for the vast majority (93 percent) of the total volume of China’s total beef imports worth $9.518 billion. This may be in part because the U.S. value per pound of beef shipped to China is higher than most of its competitors in the China beef market, with the exception of Canada. Both the United States and Canada primarily export a grain-fed product distinct from what China typically imports from other countries. In 2020, the U.S. unit value per pound of frozen boneless beef—the product the United States has been exporting to China in recent years—averaged $3.42. Canada’s unit value for beef imported in China exceeded that of the United States at $4.01 per pound, while other competitors’ unit values ranged from $2.08 to $2.85. Despite a higher unit price of U.S. beef, China’s commitment to purchase an additional $200 billion of American-made goods and services over 2020 and 2021 under the United States–China Phase One trade deal could lead to continued growth of U.S. beef exports. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s January 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Beef production in the first quarter of 2020 set a first-quarter record. Even as retail demand for beef increased in late March as consumers prepared to shelter in place, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that beef held in cold storage at the end of March 2020 was 11 percent above last year and 2 percent above the previous month. Since its peak in late March, federally inspected beef production fell almost 32 percent through the week ending April 25 as the rate of cattle slaughter declined at several beef packing facilities. The slowdown in cattle slaughter limited beef production at these facilities where operations temporarily closed or shifts were reduced due to labor force absences caused by the spread of COVID-19. At a time when cattle slaughter numbers increase seasonally, cattle slaughter rates for the week ending April 25 were down 28 percent year-over-year. As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly, the Economic Research Service continues to closely monitor the latest USDA data and industry news. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook report from April 2020 and is updated using data from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
A sharp increase in the wholesale value of beef, along with a modest decline in the value of steers between February and March 2020, produced a larger monthly increase in the farm-to-wholesale price spread for Choice beef than ever before. The farm-to-wholesale price spread calculates how much the farmer receives versus how much the wholesaler receives on a per-pound basis. The price spread increase of 42 cents per pound of retail product in March 2020 was the largest since August 2019 when the spread rose over 36 cents per pound in one month, reaching the all-time high. At that time, a beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas which comprised about 6 percent of U.S. beef packing capacity, had caught fire and shut down, instantly tightening wholesale supplies. The March run-up in wholesale beef prices may be attributed, in part, to an increase in grocery store demand for beef, as consumers prepared to shelter in place due to COVID-19 and supply chains adjusted to stronger retail demand and weaker food service demand. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service’s Meat Price Spreads data product.
Thursday, December 5, 2019
Over the last 50 years, U.S. beef production (measured as volume of meat produced) steadily increased by 25 percent, even while the number of cattle destined for beef production decreased by 6 percent. When beef production, numbers of cattle, and average cattle weights are viewed as indices (with a base year of 1970), the trend becomes clear. Since 1970, beef production has increased by roughly 25 percent. Over the same period, however, the number of cattle used in beef production has fallen by 6 percent. The decline in the number of cattle has been countered by a more than 30-percent increase in average cattle weights, driven mainly by increases in the average weights of steers and heifers, which represent 80 percent of cattle destined for beef production. Changes in breeding practices have produced heifers and steers with higher growth rates and higher feed conversion efficiencies in pastures and feedlots. USDA forecasts beef production to reach record levels in 2019 and again in 2020. Both years are expected to surpass the previous record set in 2002, but with 8 percent fewer cattle than in 2002. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019. This Chart of Note was originally published June 5, 2019.
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Over the last 50 years, U.S. beef production (measured as volume of meat produced) steadily increased by 25 percent, even while the number of cattle destined for beef production decreased by 6 percent. When beef production, numbers of cattle, and average cattle weights are viewed as indices (with a base year of 1970), the trend becomes clear. Since 1970, beef production has increased by roughly 25 percent. Over the same period, however, the number of cattle used in beef production has fallen by 6 percent. The decline in the number of cattle has been countered by a more than 30-percent increase in average cattle weights, driven mainly by increases in the average weights of steers and heifers, which represent 80 percent of cattle destined for beef production. Changes in breeding practices have produced heifers and steers with higher growth rates and higher feed conversion efficiencies in pastures and feedlots. USDA forecasts beef production to reach record levels in 2019 and again in 2020. Both years are expected to surpass the previous record set in 2002, but with 8 percent fewer cattle than in 2002. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019.
Monday, July 2, 2018
If cheeseburgers are on your menu for July 4, they will cost you 20 percent more than their inflation-adjusted cost from 20 years ago. And that greater cost is due to higher ground beef prices. In 2018, the ingredients for a home-prepared, quarter-pound cheeseburger total $1.69, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $0.92. This same cheeseburger would have cost $0.91 to prepare in 1998, the equivalent of $1.40 in 2018 dollars, with ground beef accounting for $0.55 in 2018 dollars. Today’s higher ground beef prices in grocery stores likely reflect cattle supply disruptions in the early 2000s and early 2010s, resulting in higher-than-average increases in retail ground beef prices during those years. Although U.S. beef production has since increased, prices are slower to retreat at the retail level. In contrast, efficiencies throughout the food supply chain helped lower prices for the other cheeseburger ingredients. Inflation-adjusted retail bread prices between 1998 and 2018 fell by 2.8 percent, tomato prices by 12.3 percent, lettuce prices by 27.9 percent, and cheddar cheese prices by 5.7 percent. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 25, 2018.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
In June 2017, the United States began shipping beef to China after a 14-year absence. U.S. beef was banned from China following the discovery of isolated cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)–commonly known as mad cow disease–in the United States and Canada in 2003. Prior to 2003, China was among the top 10 U.S. beef export markets, but still significantly smaller than leading U.S. partners like Japan, Canada, and Mexico. In recent years, China has expanded its global beef imports and ranked as the second largest global beef importer behind the United States in 2016. U.S. beef shipments to China have grown since June and reached almost 2 million pounds in September alone. While 2 million pounds is less than 1 percent of September’s total U.S. beef exports, shipments to China are expected to grow as more U.S. suppliers receive proper USDA verifications to supply this market. This chart is drawn from the ERS Livestock and Meat International Trade Data product updated in December 2017.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
In every month in 2017, U.S. beef exports exceeded the prior year’s exports, according to the latest trade data through September. Year-to-date beef exports through September total just under 2.1 billion pounds, compared with 1.8 billion during the same time in 2016, a 15-percent increase. Much of the growth in U.S. beef exports can be attributed to increased shipments to Japan, which has received 29 percent more beef so far in 2017, compared with 2016. This rise has amounted to more than 140 million pounds of beef. The growth in U.S. beef exports has coincided with stronger domestic beef production and lower prices relative to recent years. An additional factor that influences U.S. trade, is the relative strength of the country’s dollar compared with its competitors. Between January and September 2017, the U.S. dollar depreciated by roughly 8 percent, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s Trade-Weighted U.S. Dollar Index. A depreciating dollar relative to a trading partner makes U.S. goods more attractive because more dollars can be purchased with the same amount of the partner’s currency. This chart appears in the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook Newsletter, released in November 2017.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Seasonality of steer dressed weights are largely determined by biological factors and weather-related impacts on animal growth. Seasonally, steer weights tend to increase from the spring months, then decline from late fall into the early spring months. The long-term trend, which has been marked by sustained growth in dressed weights, is due to improvements in cattle genetics through selective breeding and the implementation of modern production systems. For steers, several factors interact to influence year-over-year changes in carcass weights including: producers’ responses to market prices of outputs and inputs (feed and feeder animals); weights and age at which animals are placed into feedlots; and animals’ biological responses to abnormal weather. Steer weights in 2017 are lower than a year ago, driven by aggressive marketing of slaughter-ready animals in feedlots, especially compared to a year ago. This is due to greater profit margins for retail meat packers than in 2016. Still, steer weights remain above their 10-year average, a period in which 2011-13 corn price averaged more than 6 dollars per bushel. This chart appears in the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook newsletter released in October 2017.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Increasing global population and demand for food have led to rising agricultural production and demand for land for farming purposes. Expanded agricultural land has often come from tropical deforestation in developing countries that have become major exporters of commodities like beef, soybeans, and palm oil. In Brazil, for example, deforestation is linked most closely with the production of beef in the Amazon basin and the Cerrado region. Historically, cattle account for over 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon and 88 percent in the Cerrado. At its peak in 1995, beef accounted for 3.75 million hectares of deforestation in Brazil, compared to 0.71 million hectares in 2013. Deforestation due to soybean production has generally remained low, particularly in the Amazon. Soybean production has mostly increased by expanding onto previously cleared cropland or pasture, rather than by contributing directly to deforestation. In more recent years, higher yields and policy changes have contributed to a decline in deforestation rates in Brazil. This chart appears in the ERS report International Trade and Deforestation: Potential Policy Effects via a Global Economic Model, released April 2017.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
If cheeseburgers are on the menu for your July 4 barbecue, they will cost you less this year than last year. Thanks to lower prices for ground beef, bread, and tomatoes, the cost of a home-prepared cheeseburger was 6.3 percent lower in May 2016 compared with May 2015. In May 2016 (latest available prices), the ingredients for a quarter-pound cheeseburger totaled $1.72 per burger, with ground beef making up the largest cost at $0.93 and cheddar cheese accounting for $0.34. This same cheeseburger would have cost $1.83 to prepare in May 2015. Ground beef prices decreased 10.1 percent between May 2015 and May 2016, translating to a $0.10 per quarter-pound savings. Bread and tomato prices also decreased, bread prices fell 5.5 percent and tomato prices 2.6 percent. Cheddar cheese prices increased 1 percent from last May. Lettuce prices, on the other hand, were up 3.2 percent, but due the small piece of lettuce topping the cheeseburger, this translated into an increase of less than a cent per burger. More information on ERS’s food price forecasts can be found in ERS’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated June 24, 2016.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Since the late 2000s, India’s exports of beef—specifically water buffalo meat, also known as carabeef—have expanded rapidly, with India moving just ahead of Brazil to become the world’s largest exporter in 2014. India’s beef exports during the period have grown at an annual rate of about 12 percent, rising from an average volume of 0.31 million metric tons during 1999-2001 to an estimated 1.95 million during 2013-15. India’s robust export growth contributed to the expansion of world beef trade during this period and also increased the country’s share of the volume of shipments by major world beef exporters from just 5 percent during 1999-2001 to about 20 percent during 2013-15. The U.S. market share fluctuated during this period but declined from an average of 18 percent during 1999-2001 to 12 percent during 2013-15. This chart is from the ERS report, From Where the Buffalo Roam: India’s Beef Exports, released June 22, 2016.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
The spreads between farm prices for hogs and cattle and retail prices for pork and beef have widened over the past 18 months, leading to a decline in the farmer share of retail red meat prices. Growing cattle inventories and increased pork production are pushing cattle and hog prices lower. For the fourth quarter of 2015, hog prices (51-52% lean) averaged about $45 per hundredweight, down about 33 percent from a year earlier and nearly 50 percent below the prices received in the second quarter of 2014. Similarly, cattle prices (5-market steer price) averaged $128 per hundredweight in the last quarter of 2015, down nearly 23 percent from the fourth quarter 2014. Retail prices for both beef and pork are down as well, but by a smaller magnitude as they tend to adjust more slowly to changes in the farm price due to the wide variety of other costs—including labor, packaging, storage, and transportation—that also contribute to retail prices. This chart is based on the ERS Meat Price Spreads data product.
Monday, January 25, 2016
In 2013, 57.7 pounds of chicken per person on a boneless, edible basis were available for Americans to eat, compared to 53.6 pounds of beef and 43.4 pounds of pork, according to ERS’s food availability data. From 1909 to the early 1940s, chicken availability had been around 10 pounds per person a year, while yearly per-person beef and pork availability had ranged from between 30 and 50 pounds. Chicken began its upward climb in the 1940s, as innovations in breeding, mass production, and processing made chicken more plentiful, affordable, and convenient for the dining-out market and for cooking at home. By 1996, chicken had overtaken pork as the second-most-consumed meat, and in 2010, chicken overtook beef for the No. 1 spot. Beef availability rose during the second half of the last century, peaking at 88.8 pounds per capita in 1976. Pork availability, which had fallen in 2010 and 2011, was up in 2012 and again in 2013. This chart appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.