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Beef production projected to achieve new record in 2020

Achievement attributed to improved breeding practices and greater feed efficiency.

The initial forecast for 2020 commercial beef production is expected to set a record, at 27.5 billion lb. -- surpassing what is expected to be a record level in 2019 by almost 1%, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent “Livestock, Dairy & Poultry Outlook.”

While total cattle slaughter is expected to be lower than 2019, expected gains in average carcass weights will more than offset a decline in cow slaughter.

USDA lowered the 2019 beef production forecast fractionally from last month to 27.3 billion lb. due to a reduced second-quarter 2019 forecast on expectations for lower carcass weights that will more than offset an increase in anticipated fed cattle slaughter.

Innovation, improved efficiency

Over the last 50 years, production has steadily increased, while the number of cattle slaughtered has decreased, USDA economists Russell Knight and Lekhnath Chalise noted.

“In 1975, the U.S. cattle herd’s growth had peaked, with all cattle and calves topping out at 132 million head. The next year, as the herd contracted, it gave way to the largest number of cattle slaughtered commercially, at 42.7 million head, and produced a then-record of 25.7 billion lb. of beef,” they explained. “Since then, record beef production has been achieved with fewer animals as the result of an industry that has changed dramatically over time.”

The achievement can be attributed to improved breeding practices that have helped produce more efficient cows that have offspring with better growth rates and feed conversion efficiencies. Additionally, enhanced cattle performance on grass and in feedlots has provided faster turnover of feeder cattle with heavier carcass weights, Knight and Chalise reported.

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“These cattle make their way through the value chain as a better and more consistent product, thanks to improved feeding technologies and better husbandry practices, enabling the industry to produce more beef per cow,” they explained.

USDA data show that the number of fed cattle in the slaughter mix has increased by upwards of 80% of the animals harvested. The current record level of beef produced commercially, at 27.1 billion lb., occurred in 2002 and was derived from 35.7 million head. The 2019 and 2020 beef production forecasts are expected to surpass that level with about 6% fewer animals, USDA said.

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