Cattle producers advised to use caution as prices march higher

February 13, 2012 By Blair Fannin

Cattle producers should be mindful to not get too caught up in reacting to high market prices, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist.

When Dr. Jason Johnson, AgriLife Extension economist from Stephenville, showed a slide to several hundred at the Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco, it caused many to gasp and begin conversations about profit potential.

“I put this (slide) up there not to make you salivate, but to put things into perspective,” Johnson said. “You can get into a bind making certain decisions during prosperous times.”

He advised producers not to overstock due to the potential for continued drought conditions in Texas.

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But if the dry weather patterns tend to alter from last year’s devastating drought, “if we get some rain, you’ve got a real good shot at making some good money here. The price outlook is really looking good,” Johnson said.

To play it safe, Johnson said producers might want to consider stocking at 75 percent of normal capacity.

“That way if we get 80 to 90 percent normal rainfall, you won’t have to cut into the bone of the herd to destock,” he said. “If we get normal rainfall or better, there are many alternatives available to harvesting excess forage.”

Target prices for the first quarter of 2012 for 500-600 pound calves are $1.45 to $1.50, which has already been exceeded this year, Johnson said. That trend is likely to continue with a historic shortage of beef cows not seen in the U.S. since 1952.

Profitability for Texas ranchers relies on using the availability of forage and reducing the amount of purchased feed, Johnson said.

“The (calf) prices are there, the challenge for us is to produce a calf cheap enough,” he said.

The outlook for corn prices continues to be on the upswing, Johnson said, due to declining carryover stocks from last year. He expects feed prices to remain level or increase a bit “due to these supplies and the renewable fuel standard tapping into corn to make ethanol.”

Texas hay prices continue to be a threat to profit margins as well for ranchers, he said.

“You can spend a lot of money raising that $1.50-per-pound calf on hay,” he said. “Cattle producers might want to consider storing hay supplies for up to two years if ample rainfall is received this spring and summer, and if enough hay is harvested.

“Saving two years worth of hay supplies allows you to sidestep a year like 2011 when hay were out of sight.”

Ranchers can also consider the many weather-related insurance products as a hedge against drought conditions, Johnson said.

With 2011 federal income tax returns set to be filed in mid-April, Johnson said cattle producers can consider deferring taxes on the sales of excess breeding livestock if  the proceeds are used to purchase replacements within the next two years.

“You don’t have to pay tax on excess sales due to drought,” he said. “If you normally sell one-fifth of your breeding animals, anything in excess of that one-fifth you can defer taxes on and use those proceeds for replacement.”

A second tax-management option applies to non-breeding livestock. Ranchers whose principal business is farming and ranching can defer taxes on sales proceeds resulting from disaster conditions for up to one year, Johnson said.

There are several online spreadsheets made available by AgriLife Extension economics that can assist ranchers with management decisions, Johnson said. For more information, go to .

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