Turkey. Although USDA preliminarily reports weekly production of turkey for the month of October was below year-earlier levels and that total production for the final quarter of the year has been cut by 30 million pounds, the average price for whole hens has not risen in anticipation of Thanksgiving's demand increase as much as they would in a normal year. USDA lowered its fourth-quarter forecast for frozen hen prices to $1.18 to $1.22 per pound, on the basis in part of stocks of tom turkeys that are at their highest level for a September in three years. In addition, exports that draw off the domestic supply and could contribute to increased prices remained well below levels seen during 2012 to 2014, when they were shut off by avian influenza.
Lamb. Prices are expected to continue to remain below year-earlier levels for the remainder of 2016, primarily due to the expected increase in the supply of lamb on the market. Despite both first and second quarter commercial lamb production below last year’s 39 million pounds, overall 2016 production is expected to be slightly higher than last year's. That expected increased U.S. lamb production combined with high levels of lamb and mutton in cold storage will continue to pressure domestic lamb prices downward in order to keep moving the supply. Meanwhile, continued strength in the dollar will continue to draw imported lamb into this country, further adding to those supplies. USDA expects the average 2016 price for lamb to end up in the range of $2.69 to $2.74 per pound. Both average price and production for 2017 aren't expected to change much from 2016's.
Hams. U.S. hog prices will continue to reflect very large supplies of animals coming to market. Based on October and early November slaughter data, USDA has raised its estimate for fourth-quarter commercial pork production by another 30 million pounds, to just under 6.7 billion pounds, 3 percent higher than a year ago. As a result of the supply increase, average live-hog prices for the fourth quarter are expected to be down almost 22 percent compared to last year's. Going into 2017, prices in the first quarter are forecast at 13 percent below the first quarter of this year, with second-quarter prices falling 16 percent below the same period in 2016.
USDA reports the spread between what pork meatpackers are paying and what they're getting remains wide, meaning prices for live hogs coming in are falling faster than the price for wholesale pork going out. However, the agency expects retail consumers to continue to benefit, to a limited degree, from large fourth-quarter hog supplies. Composite retail pork value averaged $3.79 in September, down 5 percent from 2015, and is expected to average in the mid-$3.50 range during the fourth quarter.
Just how long American pig farmers can keep up this pace is unknown. At current price levels, it's not likely that many of them are even covering feed costs. USDA's quarterly Hogs and Pigs report from Sept. 30 showed not only across-the-board higher inventories as of Sept. 1, but also virtually unchanged intentions on farmers' part to continue producing at this rate for the next half year at least. September's hog inventory was a record for the quarter, at nearly 71 million head, and the inventory of breeding animals was 1 percent higher than the same date last year, indicating continued intention to grow future supplies.