Beef production remains larger than a year ago, but a more in-depth look at the numbers provides some interesting patterns.

David Anderson, Extension ag economist with Texas A&M University, says beef production in September was up 1.1 percent over the previous month, compared to a year ago.

“During the same period, fed steer slaughter is down almost 2 percent while heifer and cow slaughter are 4.4 and 7 percent higher than a year ago, respectively,” he writes in his In the Cattle Markets column.

“So, all the increase in beef production in recent weeks is coming from heifers and cull cows. It’s worth a reminder that cull cow beef goes to a different (but related) market than beef from fed steers and heifers. Cull cow beef most often goes to ground beef.”

When that production is broken down by grade for the week of Sept. 15, nearly 8 percent of beef graded Prime, 70 percent graded Choice and 18 percent graded Select.

Anderson compared those numbers to a similar time frame in 1997, when 2 percent of the cattle graded Prime, 51 percent Choice and 37 percent Select.

“I would argue that an area of beef demand growth has been in higher quality beef,” he says. “While this example illustrates the long-term trend in beef production by quality grade, some large differences can occur from week to week.

“In fact, compared to a year ago, the percent of carcasses grading Choice is down 2.6 percentage points, from 73.02 to 70.42. Select beef carcasses are up almost 1.5 percent while Prime carcasses are up 1.4 percentage points.”

Anderson says fed steer weights are similar to a year ago, while heifers are being marketed at higher weights.

“Choice beef production over the last four weeks is about 3.2 percent below a year ago,” he says.

“Fed steer weights are about the same as a year ago while heifers are reflecting heavier weights. This lack of Choice beef is showing up in prices, with the Choice cutout at about $204 per hundredweight compared to about $192 a year ago.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.