Slaughter weight

The combination of large supplies and trade issues continue to shrink ham prices.

This year began with wholesale ham prices at 45 cents per pound, the lowest for the first week of a year since 2009, according to an analysis from the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

“Seasonally, ham prices usually move higher as January progresses, then tend to be about unchanged for the balance of the quarter,” the LMIC says. “Last year was unusual as prices trended lower after late January.”

Current ham prices are more than 20 percent lower than a year ago — a significant drop but still better than the decline of 28 percent in July.

“Generally speaking, the declines in ham prices have been supportive of exports and expanded domestic use,” the center says. “Ham prices in 2016 and 2017 averaged 64-65 cents per pound for an annual average. That value allowed domestic ham consumption to increase by 1 percent per year, or stay steady on a per capita basis.

“Ham domestic disappearance in 2018 (through October) was on pace to increase by another 1 percent, but prices averaged 56 cents (for the entire year, 57 cents for January-October), which is an unusually large price decline for the sake of only a small gain in consumption.”

Pork production from 2013 to 2017 grew by 10 percent, with production up 3 percent over the first 11 months of 2018.

Ham exports over the first 10 months of 2018 were up 10.5 percent on a volume basis, but since the implementation of retaliatory tariffs in May through October, ham exports only grew 6 percent.

“The negative impact of the retaliatory Mexican trade sanctions has been on the U.S. price of hams,” the LMIC says.

Bred cow prices were down substantially in 2018 from 2017 prices, according to the center. Those prices were down anywhere from 10 to 20 percent, with percentages differing based on geography.

“Interest in purchasing breeding stock has been cautious relative to current spot and futures market pricing for calves and yearlings,” the LMIC says in its report.

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