An early sell-off of cattle in response to the persistent drought conditions and rising feed prices last summer has not impacted auction volumes to any great extent, according to a market analyst with Alberta Agriculture.

“In August, we saw some movement of cattle, but when we got some rain and cold in late September and October, those numbers dropped off and things balanced off,” said Jason Wood, provincial livestock market analyst for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

Alberta auction volumes for January to December, 2018 were 1.573 million head, down just over half a percent from 2017.

Auction volumes were updated to the week ending Feb. 8 and show that from the start of the fall run in September, 2018 to early February of this year, there were 948,000 head going through auctions, down 2.4 percent from the previous marketing year and 1.4 percent lower than the five-year average.

For the first five weeks of this year, volumes are about 9.5 percent higher than a year ago, but three percent lower than the five-year average. 

Overall, 2018 auction numbers were less than two percent above the five-year average.

Woods also said beef production was up in 2018.In western Canada, beef production was 1.158 million tonnes for 2018, an increase of seven percent from the previous year. Across the country, beef production saw an increase of over six percent.

On the supply side, total federally inspected slaughter was over three million head from January to November, with more than 78 percent being processed in western Canada.

During that same period, beef exports increased four percent from 2017, to 364,940 tonnes.

The top five export markets are:

• United States- 71,000 tonnes, +4%;

• Japan- 29-237 tonnes, +18%;

• Hong Kong- 14,305 tonnes, -9%;

• China- 8,695 tonnes, +7%;

“Japan will be the bigger draw and the CPTTP reducing tariffs is helping us here,” said Wood.

Year to year, Canadian slaughter is up eight percent with heifer and cow slaughter increasing 17 percent and seven percent respectively.

One of the big reasons for the early selling last summer was the high cost of hay and Wood said those prices have not been decreasing over recent months.

The average provincial hay price was $153/ton (based on a 50 percent alfalfa mix) in January. (Price from Average Farm Input Prices for Alberta).

The average January price is six percent higher than a year ago and 37 percent higher than the five-year average. The price is an average of all qualities.

Mixed hay showed prices of $200-$225/ton and in some cases, higher. Prices were higher in the south than north regions of the province for both grass hay and alfalfa.

“Hay prices have stabilized, but they haven't come down,” said Wood.

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