How will cattle and beef markets be different in 2016?

Cattle markets in 2015 transitioned from what 2014 was to more like what 2016 will be.

Beef production will be up three to four percent annually from 2015 levels, which was the lowest since 1993. Increased beef production in 2016 is still a low number historically. That increase began with a two percent year over year increase in beef production in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Beef production will grow more in the second half of 2016 as limited recent feedlot placements will constrain beef production the first few months of the year.

Beef herd expansion was aggressive in 2015.

The annual inventory numbers due out on January 29 will confirm just how aggressive and how the stage is set for 2016.

Herd expansion will continue in 2016, though perhaps a bit slower than earlier expected as a result of the market shake-up in late 2015.

Feeder cattle supplies will increase on a projected 1.2 percent higher 2015 calf crop but will be tempered by continued heifer retention and lower cattle imports.

Cattle imports from Canada were down 27 percent year over year through October and Mexican cattle imports, though up nearly five percent for the year, dropped an estimated 30 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Herd rebuilding in both Canada and Mexico and lower U.S. cattle prices will likely keep cattle imports down in 2016.

Changes in meat trade and the situation for competing meats will modify 2016 meat consumption significantly relative to 2015.

For beef, 2015 consumption was fractionally higher year over year from 2014 as a surge in beef imports more than offset decreased beef production.

In 2016, sharply lower beef imports will likely offset much of increased domestic production and lead to an expected one percent increase in domestic beef consumption.

Beef imports began dropping in late 2015 with October imports (latest data) down 13 percent, led by a 33 percent year over year drop in imports from Australia.

2016 beef imports are projected down year over year by 12 to 15 percent. Beef exports are expected to be plus or minus equal to 2015 levels after dropping by nearly 14 percent in 2015.

Beef export recovery will be slow but may begin in 2016. Lower beef prices will support beef exports but continuing global economic concerns, especially regarding China, will likely keep the dollar value high and limit beef (and other meat) exports.

Pork production, after jumping 7.4 percent year over year in 2015, will grow much more modestly in 2016, perhaps around one percent.

Most of that growth will be in the first quarter of 2016 as peak market hog inventories move through meat markets.

The December Hogs and pigs report confirmed that current hog numbers are record high but also showed that peak production is on the ground now and sow farrowings are expected decrease into 2016.

Pork exports, up a sluggish 1.9 percent in 2015, are projected to increase six to seven percent in 2016.

Modest production increase and better pork exports mean that domestic pork consumption may actually decline fractionally in 2016.

Broiler production is also expected to grow more modestly in 2016; perhaps two to three percent compared to nearly 4 percent in 2015.

More importantly, in the absence of any more avian influenza, broiler exports are projected to increase seven to eight percent year over year, compared to a 12 percent drop in 2015.

Domestic broiler consumption is projected to increase 1.5 percent in 2016; compared to a 6.2 percent increase year over year in 2015.

Taken together, these changes in meat production mean that total meat production will increase less than 2 percent in 2016, compared to a 2.7 percent year over year increase in 2015.

More importantly, meat production combined with trade impacts mean that total meat consumption will only increase fractionally in 2016 following a 4.5 percent year over year increase in 2015.

While beef production will increase the most, the overall meat situation will be more favorable in 2016 compared to 2015.