A Beef/Cattle Market Teetor Totter

That moment when your body launches to the top of the seesaw at top speed? Beef packers, please remind us what that feels like.

Beef prices are going nuts. Choice boxed beef prices teetered over $300/cwt. And the wholesale Choice price is up 33%, second only to the record prices reached last year during the pandemic pan!c buying and supply chain meltdown.

Working overtime: To take advantage of markets, packers are gettin’ while the gettin’s good. In 2021, Saturday slaughters have been up 58% over 2020 and more than 92% over 2019.

The other end of the teeter-totter…

Cattle feeders can’t say the same. Fed cattle markets lost their early April rally and tottered down below $120/cwt.

Producers’ margins are tightening as feed grain prices rise sharply. Livestock Economist Scott Brown says for every 10-cent increase in feed costs, there’s an 80-cent decrease in feeder cattle prices just to break even.

And then there’s the d-word. The Drought Severity and Coverage Index is at 180 for the U.S. It’s never been this high in April or May in any year.

With diminishing pasture and hay production potential, there’s little incentive to grow the herd this year; signs point to accelerating beef cow liquidation.

JBS Gettin’ Digi(tal) With It

JBS is having its own Inception moment.

The global meat player has created a blockchain platform that allows suppliers of JBS to register, well, their own suppliers.

In April, beef cattle producers began registering animal sellers on the Transparent Livestock Farming Platform, an initiative sponsored by JBS.

The goal is for all suppliers to comply with socio-environmental criteria for breeding beef cattle in the Amazon Biome.

Translation: The Federal Prosecution Office will use data received from the tool to look for any occurrences of deforestation, hard labor, invasion of indigenous lands, or other non-sustainable practices.

Playing by the rules: The results are sent to the JBS supplier, who now has a crystal clear view of socio-environmental compliance in his full supply chain. If there are issues, the supplier can create plans to dissolve the risks and assist producers in doing the right thing.

Ecotrace created the tool for JBS, but it is an open platform, so anyone in the industry can use the system.

And while that might sound a little sketch, blockchain technology keeps third-party information confidential, and JBS can only see the consolidated analysis of suppliers… aka no sensitive information.

Future state: Right now, signing up is voluntary, but by 2025, any cattle supplier interested in selling to JBS must be registered on the platform.

A Swing for the Vences

Thanks to a recent $12 million investment in a San Diego startup, a whole boatload of ranchers will soon be rotating their herds across rangeland without running another strand of wire.

“Oh, oh, it’s magic.”: Well, not really, but it is cutting-edge. With the help of GPS and some high-tech wearable collars, the Vence Corporation is providing ranchers with a 21st-century solution to open grazing and pasture rotation.

How it works: Using an app on his or her phone, a producer sets an “invisible fence” boundary by inputting GPS coordinates. Then, just strap a collar around Bessie’s neck, and she’s free to roam.

As a cow approaches a boundary, the collar emits a warning noise. If it ignores the warning, then it’s encouraged to turn around via a light electrical shock–just like an electric fence.

Oh, and this… It’s not just for keeping the herd venced in. Sensing the animal’s direction of movement, the collar also uses noise and shocks to herd the cattle to the next paddock.

But it’s about more than pasture management. With U.S. grasslands being the largest land-based carbon sink globally, preventing overgrazing by simplifying pasture rotation is a slam-dunk for combating climate change.

Where this goes: With the company’s new cash on hand, the 5,000 farmers lined up to get the service won’t have to wait long. And Vence plans to move forward with more R&D to service even more livestock producers.

Cattle Markets’ Transparency Test

Show me the cattle market transparency.

Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced the Cattle Market Transparency Act of 2021, which builds on years of research and discussion of negotiated trade of fed cattle.

Refresher: Negotiated trade or references to the spot/cash market is when a buyer and seller interact and determine an agreeable price on the day of sale. In the mid-2000s, 50%-60% of cattle sold went through the negotiated market. Over time, cattle producers have shifted to using formulas, grids, and other alternative marketing arrangements (AMAs) that help them manage risk and take home more bacon.

As a result, about 20% of cattle transactions are currently negotiated purchases with significant regional nuances.

The catch: AMAs depend on the price discovery from those direct, buyer-seller interactions. The cattle industry is united in agreement with economic research, saying there’s just not enough negotiated trade to provide sufficient price discovery.

But how the industry should go about making that change is where things get hairy.

Fischer’s bill calls on the USDA to set regional minimums of negotiated trade of fed cattle, establish a library of cattle formula contracts, and increase market data reports.

Where things stand: The American Farm Bureau Federation and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association are on board, but the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is not down with the new approach yet…at least not until their voluntary industry plan fails to achieve enough price discovery.

Herd Notebooks Be Gone

U.S. ranchers can wave ‘bye-bye’ to those handwritten herd notebooks.

AgriWebb, a ranch management software, is placing roots in North America with a new HQ in Denver.

The AgTech ranch hand’s profile:
→ Born in Australia in 2014 and valued at $76 million.
→ Branches in Sydney and London (and now Denver!) with boots on the ground in South Africa, Brazil and Ireland.
→ 14 million head of cattle on the app with $23 million to spend on global domination.

The software helps ranchers digitize inventory, pasture management, treatment records, feed costs, and fertility rates.

And it’s not just saving cowboys from carpal tunnel.

Globally, producers have notched a 7.5% uptick in productivity found through weight gains, fertility, and other data-driven decisions. Savings have summed up to $50K and 200+ hours for producers.

What’s next: After gaining market share in the U.S., investments in additional individual animal management platforms and carbon footprint tracker tools are on the docket.

The RFID Rift

Welcome to the acronym party…

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and the USDA’s subagency Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) are courting.

AKA, they’re seeing each other in court. AKA, there’s a lawsuit.

How we got here: An initial advisory committee spent months discussing the pros and cons of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for traceability. But when the groups couldn’t reach a consensus, a new group – The Producer Traceability Council (PTC) – was formed.

The problem? Any opposing members to RFID weren’t invited to the PTC table. RFID advocates filled all the seats.

Then the USDA released a factsheet explaining the transition plan to RFID tags from metal ear tags on their website.

Let’s just say that none of this sat well with the R-CALF group…

R-CALF sees the proposed plans as imposing enormous cost requirements on operations with non-compliance leading to restricted market access.

Where this goes: After a quick legal hand slap from R-CALF, the USDA pumped the brakes and took the information off its website. With no new court dates set, R-CALF lawyers are filing complaints against the USDA for breaking rules and not allowing a public comment period. More to come here.