Profit Tracker: Growing Packer/Feeder Margin Spread

Cattle and hog feeding
Cattle and hog feeding

The widening spread between feedlot and packer margins underscores the leverage the large packing companies wield. Beef packer margins jumped $83 per head (20%) last week to $387. The gains were mainly due to rapidly increasing wholesale beef prices, little of which translated into higher fed cattle prices.

Average prices for fed steers was $112.28 per cwt. the week ended Jan. 29, which produced average feeding margins of $47 per head. That resulted in a $340 spread between packer and feedlot profits, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker.

The beef cutout average was $229 per cwt, or $11 per cwt. higher than the previous week. The cutout was also $16 per cwt. higher than the same week a year ago, while fed cattle prices were $10 per cwt. lower than a year ago. A year ago packers saw profits of $73 per head, some $314 less than this year.

The total cost for finishing a steer marketed last week was $1,479, about $5 more than the same week a year ago. Last year cattle feeders saw profits of about $185 per head the final week of January. This year feeder cattle represent 65% of the cost of finishing a steer compared with 72% a year ago. The Beef and Pork Profit Trackers are calculated by Sterling Marketing Inc., Vale, Ore.

Farrow-to-finish pork producers saw their margins improve from a $2 per head loss to breakeven last week. Lean carcass prices traded at $58.76 per cwt., $1.63 higher than the previous week, and $2.27 higher than a month ago. A year ago pork producers lost an average of $5 per head. Pork packer margins averaged a profit of $42 per head last week, about $3 per head higher than the previous week.

Sterling Marketing president John Nalivka projects cash profit margins for cow-calf producers in 2021 will average $123 per cow. For feedyards, Nalivka projects an average profit of $43 per head in 2021, and packer margins are projected to average $251 per head.

For farrow-to-finish pork producers, Nalivka projects 2021 will produces losses of $13 per head. Pork packers are projected to earn $37 per head in 2021.


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