October 15, 2003



Canada Cattle Prices At Record-High


On Monday October 13, Panhandle feedlots broke records set only last week for Canada live cattle, the prices pushed higher by a continuing healthy appetite for beef and by a partial ban on Canadian imports that has tightened supplies.


The Texas Cattle Feeders Association reported that steers traded at $105-$110 per hundredweight, compared with last week's already high prices of $96-$98.


"It's just pretty astounding," said Jim Gill, marketing director of the Amarillo-based association. "Last week, you put $10 on the market. The largest increase I had ever seen was $5 in one week. And it's up another $8 today. A lot of people are having a hard time believing it."


However, higher prices could also bring problems.


"It's kind of a mixed bag," said Charlie Bradbury, chief executive of Huntsville-based Beefmaster Cattlemen, which markets Nolan Ryan's Tender Aged Beef. "Some producers are benefiting, but the high prices make our products more expensive. We wonder when consumers will say, 'Enough.' "


There's a 5-6 week lag before retail prices catch up, Bradbury said. Supermarkets are beginning to pass on the higher costs from this summer and now prices have gone up again.


"Genuine demand for beef remains strong," he said. "No one knows at which point people will stop buying it."


Shane Sklar, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas, said his 3,000 members, who are nonetheless "nervous a little bit because they wonder if they'll remain", welcome record prices.


"They are also wondering if it's because the Canadian border has been closed down for a while," Sklar said. "They hate to be excited at some people's misfortune -- but thankful we haven't had a disease outbreak ourselves."


The discovery in May of an Ontario cow with mad cow disease, or BSE, led to a ban on all Canadian beef products. Canada had satisfied 7% of the U.S. market, straining already tight domestic supplies. Authorities recently relaxed the ban to permit the import of boxed meat, but not before costing Canadian exporters hundreds of millions of dollars.


Sklar and Bradbury said Texas producers should benefit more than counterparts in many other areas of the country because ample rain has helped pastures here while some other states in Canada are still coping with dry weather.
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