Lower corn, beef prices fuel barbecue town hall


Low corn prices are helping to produce more pounds of meat, whether it’s beef, pork or chicken, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist.

That’s good news for barbecue restaurant owners who continue to purchase and smoke thousands of pounds of meat to satisfy a growing demand for Texas barbecue.

As a whole, meat prices are coming down from 2014 levels, especially beef, said Dr. David Anderson, speaking at the recent town hall meeting for Texas barbecue owners, managers and pitmasters held at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“We still have pretty tight supplies of cattle even though we’ve seen prices come down,” Anderson said. “A year ago we were talking about record-high cattle and retail beef prices, that we needed rain to break drought conditions before herd expansion could kick in full force. That expansion has started, and longer-term, we are going to have a lot lower prices (as a result of more cows and calves). That’s pretty normal. The cattle industry is a cyclical industry.”

Anderson said as of Jan. 1, 2015 there were 2 percent more beef cows in the U.S. than 2014. He said by Jan. 1, 2016 there could be another 2-3 percent more beef cows.

“The idea is we are rebuilding the herd, and we have had rain. When I talk about tight supplies, 30 million beef cows, that’s still the lowest in decades. But we are starting to grow (beef herds) across the nation.”

“A year ago when you came to this meeting, we were talking about good forecasts for meat prices on the way and the prices you pay would get a little better,” said Dr. Jeff Savell, meeting coordinator and university distinguished professor, Regents Professor and E.M. “Manny” Rosenthal chairholder in the department of animal science at Texas A&M. “Well, here we are again and prices have come down.”

The town hall meeting is an extension of a series of educational workshops led by Savell and meat science department faculty to help further education in cooking Texas barbecue.

The town hall meeting attracted more than 50 barbecue professionals from across the state including representatives from Riscky’s Barbecue, Fort Worth; Pappas Bar-B-Q, Houston; Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor; Snow’s BBQ, Lexington; Southside Market and Barbeque, Elgin and Bastrop; and Roegels Barbecue, Houston.

As a bonus, Savell and the meat science team provided lunch, which consisted of pit smoked beef strip loin and top sirloin, smoked front-end pork loin and homemade side dishes.

“We thought it would be nice to feed you for a change instead of you feeding us,” Savell said. “It’s a chance for use to return the favor. We like to have this as a venue, a chance to meet each other. Relationships are important.”

Dr. Davey Griffin, AgriLife Extension meats specialist, led cooler and meat cuts demonstrations. He also discussed carcass values and grading.

Dr. Al Wagner, AgriLife Extension food technology specialist, provided an overview on bottling sauces for retail sale.

Anderson said corn prices, which have held around $4 a bushel, have allowed feedlot operators to put extra gain on feedlot cattle. So much in fact that carcass weights have averaged a record high 930 pounds.

“Those are huge animals,” Anderson said. “When they are averaging 930 pounds, think of what the ends look like. You have huge cuts. It’s a really interesting phenomenon going on in terms of dressed weights.

“For the last couple of months, we’ve been producing more beef than we were a year ago. We’ve been feeding them to heavier weights and getting more tonnage on markets.”

Beef production increased about 1.7 percent in the last three months of 2015, Anderson said. And by 2016, there will be 3-4 percent more beef produced and even more in 2017.

Slaughter steer prices have been averaging $125 per hundredweight compared to $158 a year ago.

“Wholesale boneless beef prices have seen sharp declines this year,” he said. “They were averaging $290 (per hundredweight)in late 2014 and are now $210 in 2015. These declines have been a heck of a lot lower than I anticipated. These are just shocking changes from a year ago.”

Brisket prices in 2015 came down considerably for Texas barbecue managers, who also offered alternative meats on their menus to compensate for the high beef prices. Brisket prices that fetched nearly $6 a pound camedown to $3.90 a pound by May.

“The crunch of tight supplies of cattle as a result of drought and low cattle numbers drove us to those high prices we saw last year,” Anderson said.

Hog and pork production has recovered from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea  virus, Anderson said, and litter rates have returned to normal growth rates.

“With cheap feed, the pork industry has gone through a pretty profitable period and boosted production. We’re headed to more production and even lower prices for pork.”

With wholesale pork loin prices at 85 cents a pound, Anderson said consumers are giving these cuts a good look compared to higher priced beef.

“How many of you are cooking whole pork loins?” Savell asked. “It’s a good product if you keep it moist.”

Said one barbecue owner, “I bet a whole lot of us start doing it since it’s so cheap.”


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