July 13, 2020
COVID-19 whacks beef exports
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Beef exports were sharply lower in the latest trade data for May. Decreased beef exports was due to COVID-19 related disruptions in beef production and likely in part due to decreased international beef demand. Total beef exports in May were down 30.9% year over year bringing the year-to-date total for the first five months of the year down 1.9% compared to last year.
May exports to Japan, the number one U.S. beef export market, were down 26.3% year over year. Beef exports to number two market South Korea were down 21.7% year over year in May. Exports to Mexico, recently the number three beef export destination, were down a whopping 78.0% from one year ago in May. On a monthly basis, Mexico dropped to sixth place in May. Beef exports to Hong Kong were up 19.9% year over year in May, the only major market to show an increase for the month.
May exports of beef to Canada were down 17.6% compared to one year ago. Beef exports to Taiwan were down 31.8% year over year in May. China, though still a minor market for U.S. beef exports, was up 176.7% year over year in May and represented a monthly record of 2.5% of total U.S. beef exports.
It is not clear how much of the drop in May beef exports was due to reduced supply and how much was due to reduced demand because of global recession. Beef production dropped 19.7% in April followed by a 19.9% drop in May. There is little doubt that May beef exports were curtailed in part simply due to a lack of available product. No doubt, some export orders were simply unable to be filled in May. It is likely, however, that part of the decrease in beef exports was due to macroeconomic weakness in some countries combined with higher U.S. beef prices. Choice boxed beef prices increased to a monthly average of $263.35/cwt. in April, up from the March level of $228.05/cwt. May Choice boxed beef prices increased to $420.00/cwt., up 84.2% over the March levels.
The drop in beef exports to Mexico, in particular, is very concerning. It is doubtful that reduced supply alone explains the 78.0 % drop in May beef exports to Mexico. Mexico is experiencing a sharp recession compounded by a weaker Mexican Peso in April and May (with some recovery in June). In 2019, Mexico accounted for 14% of total U.S. beef exports for the year, but in May only amounted to 4.4% of total monthly exports. May exports of pork to Mexico were down 21.9% and broiler exports were down 27.6%, highlighting the overall demand weakness in Mexico.
Beef production recovered significantly in June, to approximately 97% of year-ago levels, and Choice boxed beef prices dropped back to an average of $242.30/cwt. June beef exports will likely bounce back significantly from the May drop but it will be important going forward to monitor both the residual impact of the April/May processing disruptions and the ongoing global economic weakness to see how beef export prospects develop in the second half of the year.
Understand and lessen heat stress when working cattle
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Here they come! Those four little words that Oklahoma cattle producers despise in the summer time: “High Pressure Heat Dome.” Understanding and avoiding heat stress in cattle can be a valuable management tool for summertime in Oklahoma.
Most areas of Oklahoma have 10 or more days each year above 100 degrees and 70 or more days with high temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (Source: 1997 Oklahoma Climatological Survey). This means that most cow-calf operations will be working cattle on days when heat stress to cattle is likely.
Cattle have an upper critical temperature approximately 20 degrees cooler than humans. When humans are a little uncomfortable at 80 degrees and feel hot at 90 degrees, cattle may well be in the danger zone for extreme heat stress. Humidity is an additional stressor that intensifies the heat by making body heat dissipation more difficult. Knowledge of daily body temperature fluctuations and the impact of handling cattle on body temperature can be valuable at this time of year.
Oklahoma State University research with rumen temperature boluses has shown that the core body temperature of beef cows peaks at 2 to 5 hours after the highest daytime temperature (Pye, Boehmer, and Wettemann. 2011 ASAS Midwest Abstracts Page 104; Abstract 285). On a hot spring/summer day the highest daytime temperature is often late afternoon. Therefore, the peak body temperature of cattle will occur at 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. In this study, average 4 p.m. ambient temperature was 93 degrees F., core body temperature was 102.2 F. At 7 p.m. the ambient temperature had dropped to 88.7 degrees, but core body temperature increased to 103 F. Elevated core body temperatures have been implicated from other research in reduced pregnancy rates in heat stressed cattle.
Research data has been reported by Dr. Mader at the University of Nebraska research station near Concord, Nebraska. He found that moving yearling cattle just a small distance (2000 feet) during mild summer temperatures (80 degrees F.) could change the core body temperature by as much as 1.4 degrees F. This indicates that body temperatures of excited, stressed cattle being worked in hotter temperatures could rise to dangerous levels.
Increases in core body temperatures have been shown to reduce conception rates at the time of artificial insemination and reduced embryo survival and viability for at least 14 days following breeding. If cattle working procedures are still necessary for breeding or for health purposes, during the heat of summer, following a few common sense guidelines may lessen the impact of heat:
- During hot weather, cattle should be worked before 8:00 a.m., if possible. Certainly, all cattle working must be complete by about 10:00 a.m. While it may seem to make sense to work cattle after sundown, they may need at least six hours of night cooling before enough heat is dissipated to cool down from an extremely hot day.
- Cattle that must be handled during hot weather should spend less than 30 minutes in the working facility. Drylot pens and corrals loaded with cattle will have very little — if any — air movement. Cattle will gain heat constantly while they are in these areas. Therefore, a time limit of one-half hour in the confined cattle working area should limit the heat gain and therefore the heat stress.
- Make every effort to see that cool, fresh, water is available to cattle in close confined areas for any length of time. During hot weather conditions cattle will drink more than 1% of their body weight per hour. Producers need to be certain that the water supply lines are capable of keeping up with demand, if working cattle during hot weather.
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.