How much beef will be available in the next two years? That’s a question that’s been pondered considerably since the drought of 2011 ravaged the key production states of Texas and Oklahoma, and then extended into the Cornbelt in 2012.

Based on USDA’s final range and pasture conditions ratings for 2012, which were released on Oct. 28, states with 40% or more of range/pasture lands rated as in poor or very poor condition accounted for 70.5% of the nation’s beef cows. That figure was 46.1% on Oct. 30, 2011. Only 21.6% of the nation’s cowherd resided in states with 40% or more of their range/pasture lands rated in good or excellent condition. That compares to 36.7% one year ago.

And the impact hasn’t been felt just in the cowherd. The disruption that has occurred in the timing of feedlot placements over the past couple of years will be manifested over the next few months. We commented after last month’s USDA Cattle on Feed report about the relatively large number of lightweight placements being driven by poor wheat pasture conditions. The same will likely be true for December and then, look out – there doesn’t appear to be many feeder cattle behind those since a high proportion of those light calves have already moved to feedyards.

All of this has been discussed over the past two years, but it bears reviewing relative to likely beef output levels in 2013 and beyond. The top chart below shows beef output forecasts from the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) in Denver and they are, we think, pretty shocking.

commercial beef production versus pork production in 2013

The quarterly year-on-year changes for 2013 are huge – 4.5%, 4.7%, 3.7% and 6.3% for Q1 through Q4, respectively. That 6.3% is the largest quarterly year-on-year decline since Q3-2004 when the industry was adjusting to lower exports following the first BSE case in December 2003. To find a larger year/year quarterly decline NOT associated with BSE, we had to go back to Q1-2001 (-7.1%) and then Q2-1987 (-8.1%).

Further, the 2013 changes are just the start. The LMIC forecasts for 2014 predict quarterly production figures that are another 4.9%, 4.8%, 4.4% and 4.4% lower than in 2013. Add those up and you get two-year declines in quarterly beef production of 9.2% in Q1-2014, 9.5% in Q2, 7.9% in Q3 and 10.4% in Q4. Ouch.