“The extreme winter weather has exacerbated the seasonal decline in dressed weights of cattle slaughtered. The potential is high for dressed weights well below the 2009 levels,” Economic Research Service (ERS) analysts said in the most recent “Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook.”

During the past decade, ERS analysts explain average monthly dressed weights declined an average of just under 4% (29 lbs.) from peak weights in the fall to seasonal lows in April-May. During last year’s mild winter the seasonal decline was 22 lbs.

It’s not just feedlot performance, either. As cattle were coming off wheat pasture in the Rolling Plains and Panhandle of Texas, Todd Baughman, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist, observed, “The biggest thing from the wheat-cattle situation is that cattle are coming off wheat a bit light because of all the mud they’ve been dragging around.”

The ERS analysts explain that: “combined with dressed weights below year-earlier levels, the net placements falling below year-earlier levels thus far this winter will likely result in total commercial beef production below year-earlier levels through at least mid-year. If lower placements continue during the first half of 2010, beef production could also be below year-ago levels in the second half. Wholesale beef prices will receive support from lower beef production, especially with any increase in prices for beef middle meats, pork, and poultry.”

Also on the plus side is a drought map no one can remember seeing before – virtually no severe drought anywhere in the U.S. So, pastures should get off to a roaring start this spring.

A downside to this winter’s exceptional moisture, along with the physical challenges of fighting it, is the likelihood for more volatility in the grain markets with concerns of late planting and whatnot. The industry will get its first look at next year’s crop when USDA releases the Planting Intentions report this week.