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Thursday April 26, 2018

Just in time for June National Dairy Month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 35-page report, Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk? A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency, attempts to understand why most Americans don’t consume enough dairy products. Despite rising cheese consumption in recent years, per capita dairy consumption has long held steady at about 1.5 cup-equivalents, or only about half the amount the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for anyone older than 8 years old.


Milk consumption declining

Data from USDA’s dietary intake surveys conducted between the 1970s and 2000s show that Americans remain pretty stable in the portion size when they drink milk. On the occasions they drink fluid milk, they typically consume about a cup. The change has come in consumption frequency. Between the 1970s and 2000s, people have become less apt to drink fluid milk at mealtimes, especially with lunch and supper, reducing the total number of consumption occasions, by:

  • Between surveys in 1977-78 and 2007-08, the share of preadolescent children who did not drink fluid milk on a given day rose from 12 percent to 24 percent, while the share that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 31 to 18 percent.
  • Between 1977-78 and 2007-08, the share of adolescents and adults who did not drink fluid milk on a given day rose from 41 percent to 54 percent, while the share that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 13 to 4 percent.

Underlying these decreases in consumption frequency, the USDA study says, are differences in the habit of drinking milk between newer and older generations. When you hold all other factors, like race and income, constant, generations of Americans born after the 1930s have consumed fluid milk less often than their preceding generations:

  • Americans born in the early 1960s consume fluid milk on 1.1 fewer occasions per day than those born before 1930.
  • Americans born in the early 1980s consume fluid milk on 0.3 fewer occasions per day than those born in the early 1960s.

Milk no longer a staple throughout the day

Those differences across the generations in fluid milk intake explain the observed decrease in per capita fluid milk consumption in recent decades despite efforts by government, dairy marketers and farmer-funded advertising campaigns to stem the decline. If that’s not bad enough news, the worse news is that the trend promises to continue. Milk-drinking habits are formed in childhood, by parents, and as today’s newer less-milk-consuming generations replace older ones, they will not only continue their habit of less consumption, but will teach it to their children, as well.

If there’s any good news to be found, it’s the fact that when Americans do consume fluid milk, they have continued to drink at least as much as they did in the 1970s. The fact that portions appear not to have decreased suggests any successful attempts at marketing or recommendations that help reintroduce milk-drinking at different times of the day should result in an upward bump in overall consumption.


Nine out of every 10 American households now own an outdoor barbecue, grill or smoker, says the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Just in time for the kickoff of the long-awaited summer grilling season, here's your look ahead at the projections for the commodities that will be occupying those devices.

Beef production by quarterBeef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports improved prospects for grazing in 2013 because of recent rains have bolstered prices feedlots are willing to pay for younger cattle to put on feed. Lower year-over-year supplies of beef have provided support for cow prices, indicating ranchers are considering rebuilding their diminishing herd sizes. However, that price confidence hasn't yet reached those who bid for cattle ready for market today nor for wholesale beef. With strong global demand, U.S. beef exports are expected to decline only about 1 percent in 2013. U.S. beef imports are expected to strengthen as the year progresses.

Pork production by quarterPork. The latest quarterly USDA Hogs and Pigs report showed larger March 1 inventories farmers were keeping than compared with a year ago. That increase means commercial pork production in 2013 is expected to increase about 1 percent. February exports off sharply, with lower shipments to all major markets except Canada, should also help boost domestic supply.

Broiler production by quarterChicken. USDA's forecast for first-quarter 2013 broiler meat production was lowered slightly to 9.16 billion pounds, just under 1 percent higher than in first-quarter 2012. At the end of
February, cold storage holdings were 615 million pounds, up 8.3 percent from the previous
year. Broiler and turkey shipments in February 2013 fell from a year ago, with broiler shipments dropping almost 8 percent from
a year earlier, totaling 588.4 million pounds.

Beef production by quarterLamb. Lamb prices declined throughout the first quarter of 2013 and are expected to weaken further during the ensuing quarters, as demand for feeder and slaughter lamb declines. Prices are not expected to show much improvement during 2013 as demand and supply appear to be well balanced. Supply is tight enough to push prices up, and demand appears weak enough to pull prices down.



Drought continues

Minus summer's heat this time of year, it's easy to forget the fact the midwest remains in one of the worst droughts in history. Despite some improvement in the eastern Corn Belt, the National Weather Service's most recent drought outlook warns that continuing drought is highly likely for a majority of the High Plains, including Nebraska:


Predictions for drought to continue

What that uncertainty does to commodity markets, most of which center around the two most common livestock and poultry feedstuffs, corn and soybeans, is stark, according to one commodity market analyst.

"If it rains then corn will be $4 [per bushel]," Steve Meyer, President of Paragon Economics, told a meeting of pig farmers in Minnesota in January. " If it doesn't rain, then it will be $8." Farmers who have managed to hold on during the last season's drought have basically bet everything they have remaining on the hope we get rain this spring, Meyer says. "It's going to be very critical that we get timely rains before spring."

The country experienced its lowest corn yield since 1991, which dropped 22 percent below the average for the period from 1960 to today, Meyer reported. If you consider the trend since only 1996, when biotech varieties of corn capable of withstanding drought better came on the market, the yield last season was a full 25 percent below average.

Corn trends

Soybean yield trends

The vanishing American cattleman?

This perspective makes painfully obvious the reasons why the number of beef cattle ranchers continues to decline

Steve Kay, editor and publisher of the beef-business newsletter Cattle Buyers Weekly wrote an illuminating blog entry about his perspective on the beef-cattle situation in the country. Kay's  friend, "Howard," was among the country’s 20 biggest producers of beef calves 25 years ago, before drought and other factors whittled down his herd. Howard's ranch, Kay said, had been fortunate enough to avoid the devastation of the drought that has claimed so many Nebraska ranchers. Still, Howard has no desire to grow the size of his herd. Why? Howard's answers, through Kay, paint a picture of why the U.S. cattle population continues to shrink and why expansion will likely be years away.

  • Howard is in his '70s and longs to retire. The average age for all cattle farmers as of the last agricultural census was 58 years old, up from 56 in 2002. Those numbers are now more than five years old and the average age is expected to top 60 in the next round.
  • Howard has no family members interested in taking over the business. With the exception of the last ag census, which was driven by an increase in small urban and suburban truck plots, the number of youth leaving the country for the city has steadily increased since the Great Depression. Because of its high initial investment that may not pay off for years, beginning beef ranchers face unique obstacles to getting started, including high startup costs and limited availability of land.
  • He’s aggressively selling off his older cows, in preparation for making his cowherd attractive to someone who has the means to buy him out. Though he may be better off financially than many, Howard is typical of many ranchers in this region who likely will sell the remnants of their herds if spring doesn't bring desparately needed water. A lot of them won't be back, even when times improve.
  • Howard has seen his operating costs skyrocket, doubling in the past six years. Howard’s calves last year each cost $600 to raise, compared to $300 six years ago. Even with calf prices at record-high prices last year and likely this year, they are nowhere near double, so ranchers like Howard aren't seeing the kind of returns that will encourage them to stay in business much longer.  Howard's experience mirrors the cost-sqeeze the entire American beef industry has come under. From 1990 to 2003, feedyard cost of gain was $261 per head; in the past four years, feedyard cost of gain has shot to $494 per head.

The only bit of good news out of Kay's story is that despite the likelihood the U.S. cattle herd will shrink for the 17th year in a row this year, the beef industry has compensated for the loss of numbers by growing increasingly productive. The 29.9 million cows U.S. ranchers managed in 2012 produced just about the same amount of beef that 34.5 million cows did in 1997. That productivity growth has come from a combination of better genetics, improved nutrition, use of growth promotants and better overall management.

TurkeyTurkey. USDA reports U.S. turkey production over the last three months has increased 4.3 percent higher than in the same period in 2011, at a total of 1.56 billion pounds. In October, much of the increase in turkey production was due to a higher number of birds slaughtered, up 7.3 percent, but a 2.4 percent gain in the average liveweight of birds at slaughter to 29 pounds also played a role. That higher production has increased stocks of whole turkeys, which is expected to place downward pressure on prices.

Long-term outlook: Given higher stocks and lower prices for whole birds, turkey farmers are expected to lower production in 2013. USDA's projections through 2021 predict turkey production, like the entire poultry sector,  is expected to expand over the projection period, although at not quite as fast a rate as broiler production. Per-capita consumption by 2021 should add about a pound per person, going from 16.4 pounds per person this year to 17.3 pounds by 2021.

Ham Pork. The rest of the world, particularly Mexico, Canada and Russia, continues to soak up a large portion of American pig farmer's products, as exports rose to almost a half billion pounds in October, 2.2 percent above October 2011's level. For the first 10 months of 2012, U.S. pork exports were more than 7 percent higher than in the same period of 2011. That export market is expected to help absorb continually, although gradual, production increase of 1 percent, holding 2012 overall hog prices for fourth quarter 2012 an average 10 percent below a year ago. Those prices are expected to rise in 2013 by about 6 percent over 2012, in spite of large accumulations of pork stocks reflecting larger year-over-year production.

Long-term outlook: USDA's longterm projections predict that as lower feed prices improve farmers returns, coupled with slightly increasing hog prices, farmers will increase their breeding numbers. That herd increase, coupled with continuing improvements in animal productivity and higher animal weights at slaughter will continue to increas supplies for the next decade. Per-capita pork consumption in the United States is expected to be 1 pound higher by 2021 than this year, at 47.2 pounds per person per year.


ChickenChicken. Broiler meat production in fourth-quarter 2012 is expected to rise to 9.1 billion pounds, or 2.7 percent higher than 2011. This higher production is expected to raise ending stocks for 2012. Year-over–year changes in broiler meat production have varied widely in the last 2 months, chiefly due to changes in the number of slaughter days compared with the previous year.  Examining broiler meat production over a slightly longer time frame, to account for those anomolies in accounting periods, shows average production has been very similar to the previous year. Broiler meat production from August to October 2012 was only 0.3 percent less than in the same period in 2011.

Even with relatively strong prices for a number of broiler products, particularly whole birds, breast meat and wings, continuing high corn price forecasts for 2013 are expected to lead broiler integrators to scale back supply production next year. The number of chicks being placed for growout continues slightly lower than in the previous year. From the beginning of November through the first week of December, chick placements averaged 155 million, down 0.9 percent from the same period in 2011. Those placements are expected to remain below year-earlier levels into the first half of 2013 and then to gradually exceed year-earlier levels in the second half of 2013. The timing and speed of that change will be all-dependent on what happens with corn and soybean supplies.

Long-term outlook: Poultry production is projected to rise the most among the meats over the next decade, as poultry is the most efficient feed-to-meat converter. However growth in the sector will be slower than occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Poultry prices are expected to improve with increased demand, although poultry will face competition from increased supplies of red meats. Additionally, despite declining from recent highs, feed prices are projected to remain relatively high. Poultry production growth is expected to come from both higher bird numbers and higher average weights.

Longterm meat and poultry predictions

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