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Wednesday January 17, 2018

It's time for summer grilling. Here's a commodity outlook

Just ahead of the kickoff to this year's summer grilling season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published red-meat and poultry production forecasts for 2017 predicting production of all animal protein components is expected to increase next year vs. this year. Overall, total red meat production should rise 3.3 percent, total poultry will grow 2.5 percent, and the total for both categories combined should rise 2.9 percent.

All meat production is expected to rise


Now's the time to take advantage of beef featuring through June and July. USDA reports cattle prices are moving lower and supplies of cattle remain large. Given a larger 2015 calf crop and expectations of increases in the 2016 calf crop, the number of cattle going into feedlots in preparation for market in 2016 and early 2017 are expected to be higher. Those larger slaughter-cattle supplies and higher average carcass weights add up to more beef production for 2017—4 percent more than 2016, at a forecast 25.8 billion pounds. Those increasing beef supplies have kept wholesale beef prices under pressure. Weak demand for ground beef products and the popular middle-meat grilling items amid expanding weekly beef production remain a negative force. USDA reports the Choice cutout price for the week ending May 6 was $205.72 per hundred pounds, down $9.79 from the previous week and $50.89 lower than last year. The Select cutout was reported at $196.49 per hundred, down $9.82 from the previous week and $48.40 below last year. The current fundamentals of the beef complex are the exact opposite of this time last year, with lower prices and higher production.

Beef price trends



Larger hog supplies will drive 2017 pork production almost 3 percent above volumes in 2016, according to USDA. Retail pork prices are likely to be lower as a result. They will be pressured by larger animal-protein supplies, not only of pork products, but of meats that compete with pork; beef and poultry production are also expected to increase in 2017. The ERS retail pork composite is expected to average in the mid-$3 region next year, down about 4 percent from the retail composite forecast for 2016. The wholesale value of January-to-April production averaged $76.20 per hundred pounds, almost 5 percent more than in the same period a year ago. In effect, this year, the wholesale market valued roughly the same volume of pork 5 percent higher than a year ago, suggesting that wholesale demand increased.

Pork price trends



First-quarter broiler production was slightly below forecast, and outlying forecasts were left unchanged. Broiler stock forecasts were reduced on lower-than-expected data, and whole-broiler price forecasts were raised slightly on stronger price trends. USDA reports April wholesale prices for broiler meat were mostly trending up, led by leg quarters, but they remained relatively low. The national composite price for whole birds at wholesale reached its seasonal low during February and has increased fairly consistently since then. With a relatively strong increase in prices during April and May, the whole-broiler price forecast was raised for the rest of 2016, with an annual average of $0.86 to $0.90 per pound. The 2017 price was forecast to average $0.84 to $0.91 per pound, as expected growth in exports partly offsets the effects of increased production.

Poultry price trends



First-quarter Choice slaughter lamb price was $133.33 per hundred pounds, almost $14 lower than the same time last year. Prices are expected to continue to remain below year-earlier levels for the rest of 2016, primarily due to the expected increase in the supply of lamb on the market. Second-quarter commercial production is also forecast at 38 million pounds. Both the first and second quarter commercial lamb production was below last year’s 39 million pounds when Easter and Passover occurred around the same time in the second quarter. However, overall 2016 production is expected to be slightly higher than last year.

Lamb price trends

Is whole milk about to make a comeback?

For decades, government health advisors told millions to cut whole milk from their diets in favor of skim. School lunch programs followed dutifully, dumping whole milk in favor of low- and no-fat, often flavored with added sugars to increase palatability and lure kids back to drinking it.

Could it all have been a mistake?

That reality may be the conclusion of several recent studies looking at large populatons to study possible links between full-fat dairy consumption, weight and risk of disease. In a new study in the medical journal Circulation, Tufts University epidemiologist  Dariush Mozaffarian analyzed blood samples of 3,333 adults over a period of 15 years. Mozaffarian and colleagues tested the samples for three compounds that indicated full-fat dairy consumption, in order to get around the notorious problem with similar studies of simply asking people to remember what they ate and drank. When they looked at the actual indicators of fat consumption based on the blood tests, they found subjects with the higher levels of the full-fat compounds on average were 46 percent less likely to get diabetes than people with lower levels.

Why the seemingly paradoxical result occured is uncertain, he reports, although he theorizes natural trans fat in the high-fat dairy products may improve the body's ability to use insulin more efficiently in managing blood sugar.

Another new study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that diets recommending low-fat and fat-free dairy foods as well as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, nuts, seeds and legumes in order to combat high blood pressure can can be modified to include whole milk, yogurt and cheese without sacrificing health benefits. In the randomized trial, researchers modified those meal plans, which despite their health benefits often suffer from non-compliance with consumers, by replacing fat-free and low-fat dairy foods with whole-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, in conjunction with a 12 percent reduction in simple sugars from fruit juices.

The results of the study showed blood pressure was similarly improved when participants followed the standard or the whole-fat dairy eating plan, compared with the control diet. In addition, the whole-fat dairy eating plan did not increase total cholesterol or LDL-C levels, despite a 6 percent higher saturated fat intake than the standard.

A separate study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, compared the effects of full-fat and low-fat dairy on obesity and found that among more than 18,000 women, those who consumed the most high-fat dairy products lowered their risk of being overweight or obese by 8 percent.

“I think these findings together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products,” Tuft's Mozaffarian told TIME magazine. “There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”

The good health news notwithstanding, it may be premature to predict a rush to the whole-fat section of the dairy case.

Consumption of whole milk has been on the decline for decades. Whole milk sales have fallen more than 61 percent since 1975, to a low of 14 billion pounds last year. Over that same period, 2 percent milk sales have more than doubled, while  1 percent and nonfat milk sales have increased by nearly three times. However, the whole-milk decline is part of a wider drop in fluid milk sales. On average, Americans today drink 37 percent less milk than they did 45 years ago, according to data from the USDA. While milk used to be the beverage of choice, Americans have reduced its share of the fluid market in favor of more options. And prospects for improvement aren't promising. The biggest declines in milk consumption over that time period came in the 2-year-old to 11-year-old and 12- to 19-year-old demographics.



Farm commodity markets have always had their wild ups and downs, but last year was particularly volatile for U.S. cattle markets. The futures price for cattle--those prices bid on animals not yet ready for market in anticipation of their future delivery--fell by 16 percent at the end of 2015, the hardest fall in more than 30 years. Combine that particular instance with more general wild price swings for many other farm commodities globally that started in 2008, and many sellers and buyers of commodities have started looking hard at the futures markets. Are they still working?

Futures markets have traditionally been considered a valuable tool to reduce natural market risk, both for the farmers who produce crops and livestock and the food manufactures who buy those commodities. In theory, they allow both parties to lock in prices today for commodities that won’t be ready for delivery for months, allowing them to better plan around the natural price swings in the market.

But in January, the Denver-based National Cattlemens Beef Association, the trade association for American cattle producers, wrote a formal letter to the the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world's biggest futures market and the exchange that trades futures on cattle prices in this country, complaining the mercantile's contracts are growing useless to the typical beef-cattle grower.

“For several months we have been hearing from our members across the country regarding market volatility and their concerns about high frequency trading’s contribution to that volatility,” the letter said. “The effectiveness of cattle futures contracts as a viable risk management tool is being called into question due to the concerns over high frequency trading. In fact, we continue to hear our members question their use of the cattle contracts because the volatility has made them a tool which is more of a liability than a benefit.”

NCBA complains that such “high-frequency trading,” in which computerized trading that can place and cancel orders in fractions of a second has replaced human beings, is artificially altering the futures market. NCBA’s letter also questions whether some of the market swings have been caused by the process known as “spoofing," an illegal practice in which participants try to change pricesby placing orders they quickly cancel, creating the false notion of genuine movements in the market.

In a conference with cattle officials at the NCBA’s annual meeting in San Diego last month, officials of the mercantile exchange promised to make changes, without admitting to the group’s complaints. It said it would add cattle futures to a system the exchange already uses that will limit the number of order updates traders can send compared to how many they actually execute. It also plans to consider five-to-six-second trading delays that would slow down computer-automated trading and address NCBA’s complaints about that practice. “High frequency trading occurs at a rate faster than any human can analyze," the cattlemen’s letter complained. "Latency would therefore level the playing field so that everyone sees the market at the same speed." NCBA also wants audit trails released on trading activity to better monitor market activity that may be less than above-board.

This recent activity has led others to ask some bigger questions about the health of America’s commodity marketing system in general. R-CALF USA, a smaller organization of western cattle ranchers that advocates for more independence and better market protection for independent cattle ranches, has demanded the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary investigate the recent collapse in market prices. That group blames large meatpackers for artificially altering prices.

Others agree. An executive for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange told Reuters News that one contributor to the futures market uncertainty is the reality that fewer and fewer cattle today are sold on the open market. Those more traditional “cash sales” in which cattle buyers and sellers negotiate immediately before those animals are ready, have declined in the past decade in favor of longterm contracts that lock in prices, often months before the animals are put onto feed. Futures markets, as they were originally intended to function, depend upon a meaningful underlying cash market to set their prices. That evolution toward contracting rather than cash price is occurring throughout agricultural markets.

A second, and perhaps more serious, underlying problem is the reality that futures markets have changed, as well. According to some ag ecomomists, what was once a market that allowed buyers and sellers to hedge the price of commodities they were forced to hold has now become a market for the diversification of financial assets. That change has turned them into “derivatives,” the same type of financial-market tool that nearly sunk the world financial markets in the crash of 2008. Those economists argue that when the fundamental market factors that affect producers and consumers of physical commodities become “uncoupled” from the financial-asset diversification of speculators in the futures market, the futures markets lose their value in helping buyers and sellers predict true prices. The relatively low cost of futures trading, some have argued, invites speculators to jump in and out of the market, artificially causing commodity prices to vary excessively, destabilizing markets from everyone, from farmer to your consumer. The research is split on whether futures are to blame for underlying market-price changes, or simply a victim of those factors.

What fruits do kids eat?

Fruit, we are told, is the key to protecting our children from obesity and diabetes today and from stroke, cancer and other chronic disease later in life. That's why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends children under 18 eat around 1 to 2 cups of fruit every day, preferably in the form of whole fruits rather than juice or fruits as part of mixed dishes. Yet we know from previous national estimates that only four in 10 kids get that recommended amount.

As to how they're doing in the other half of that requirement regarding whole fruit vs. mixed dishes, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maryland analyzed data from 3,129 youth aged 2 to 19 years, from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Using the Food Patterns Equivalents Database and the What We Eat in America 150 food groups, they then calculated the contribution of whole fruit, 100 percent fruit juices, mixed fruit dishes, and 12 discrete fruit and fruit juices to the average American kid's total fruit consumption. Here's a snapshot of what they found:

Nearly 90 percent of total fruit intake came from whole fruits (53 percent) and 100 percent fruit juices (34 percent) among  2- to 19-year-olds.

Fruit consumption by youth

Of the 12 discrete fruits and 100-percent juices that contribute almost 90 percent of total fruit intake in the diet of American youth, apples, apple juice, citrus juice and bananas were responsible for almost half of total fruit consumption. Apples accounted for 18.9 percent of average fruit intake. Differences by age were predominately between youth aged 2 to 5 years and 6 to 11 years.

Fruit breakdown by age group

Did pink slime really hurt beef demand?

As a potential billion-dollar defamation lawsuit quietly moves forward against ABC News over its March 2012 broadcasts that labeled ground-beef products by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. "pink slime," expert concensus contends the public-relations bruising to both that company and the beef industry as a whole cost a great deal in lost demand. Ad Age, for example, quoted celebrity supermarket know-it-all Phil Lempert's opinion that the media coverage had left the industry scrambling to get control of the message. "From a PR/advertising standpoint, this is the perfect storm," Lempert told Ad Age, "From a PR standpoint, very little can be done."  Brandchannel was nearly gloating in reporting the effect it believed the scandal had played on the entire beef-promotion structure.  "It’s been a rough couple years for the marketing initiative, which was established as part of the 1985 US Farm Bill," it said. "Between [the] ‘pink slime’ standoff and recalls for listeria contamination, selling a red meat patty these days isn’t as easy as it looks."

But how bad was the damage, really?

Purdue research published in the journal Food Policy now challenges the common notion of those like Lempert that bad press always necessarily hurts demand for food products. The researchers looked at overall demand for pork, chicken and turkey and for individual beef products in the USDA choice, prime and select grades, as well as ground beef, immediately after the pink-slime news broke. They plugged price and consumption patterns into a mathemetical model that accounted for the consumer's tendancy to switch product categories in response to changes in their preferences, and tested the theory that negative news coverage affected not only ground beef demand, but demand for other beef and aggregate meat categories, as well.

There's no question the negative word about lean finely textured beef got out, the researchers concluded. They constructed a weighted news media index that not only summed up the number of news articles from news transcripts, newspapers, magazines and journals, web news, video and radio per week, but went on to calculate an expected importance index, based on the percent of consumer readership for each of those news channels. Using the week of March 24, 2012, the week the pink-slime story first broke, they then created a news-impact index comparing the news that followed to that most-heated week using a range of zero to one.

But next, they matched price and consumption patterns against that media coverage index, to estimate the effects of media portrayal of LFTB on consumer demand. They found that media portrayal of LFTB did lead to significant changes in consumer demand across meats or within the beef category immediately. Consumer purchases of pork, turkey and USDA prime beef--which you might expect shoppers to choose over suspect ground beef--were affected for two weeks or greater after news reports of LFTB surfaced. Nevertheless, those effects were temporary and waned or disappeared shortly after. Even more surprising, they found media coverage did not significantly impact consumer demand for ground beef, which consists of LFTB. Consumers may have responded quickly and initially to the food scare by making changes to their meat and beef consumption, but their response didn't last long.

The Purdue work notes a similar pattern occurred in response to negative publicity regarding BSE, which the press called "mad cow disease." For example, a USDA report used food purchase records from the Nielsen Homescan panel and showed that while beef purchases declined initially, there was no evidence of response beyond two weeks after the BSE announcements. Other studies from that period confirmed the same: Consumers react quickly in response to media announcements of food scares, but those reactions are short-lived.

The lesson to be learned? Pay attention to your "industry infrastructure," says Kevin Murphy, founder of Food-Chain Communications, a Missouri company specializing in communicating up and down the food chain. The industry infrastructure is composed of all influencers who can potentially impact your brand by telling others about it. ABC's negative coverage of LFTB may not have hurt overall beef demand, but it nearly devastated the product's inventor, costing the company an estimated $1.2 billion and 700 jobs. During March 2012, 70 percent of ground beef included LFTB. However, that number dropped to 5 percent by March 2013.

That damage occurred because a handfull of key customers succumbed to panic and abandoned BPI, Murphy notes--even as consumers were apparently absorbing the news and dealing with it. Had preventive communication been applied to help those key customers communicate a reassuring story to their customers within the infrastructure, BPI may have succeeded in riding out the only temporary impact on demand the Purdue researchers confirmed was only fleeting.


Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.

Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.

In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.

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