A livestock industry expert says the slight beef cattle herd liquidation that took place in 2020 could continue into the new year.

Derrell Peel, an ag economist with Oklahoma State University, said the size of the herd peaked in early 2019 and can be expected to take a gradual decline.

“I’m anticipating that USDA will confirm at the end of January that we probably had another one-half to one percent decrease in the beef cow herd, and something along the lines of maybe a half a percent decrease in overall cattle numbers,” Peel said in a session at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention.

However, he did note some variables remain at play that could lead to a reversal of that prediction for the next year. Specifically, he noted the “degree and pace of pandemic control” and what that might mean for consumer spending and other market indicators that could influence the cattle industry.

“If we move past the pandemic in some kind of measurable way through the first part of the year and see a lot of progress in both the U.S. and global markets in the second part of the year, I think there’s a scenario where we might actually be thinking about restarting a little bit of herd expansion,” he said. “All of those scenarios are possible; I don’t know that you can really make a strong prediction one way or the other at this point.”

Peel also pointed to forecasts of decreased beef production, cattle slaughter, and carcass weights after the pandemic caused slowdowns at packing plants and heavier animals going to market.

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