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By the end of 2020, prices for most major agricultural commodities had rebounded sharply from COVID-19-related disruptions. However, cattle prices have only recently reached pre-pandemic levels. The sluggish recovery in cattle prices was reinforced by major winter storms in early 2021, which resulted in significant losses to affected producers, and a May 2021 cyberattack on meatpacker JBS S.A., which caused significant production delays. Together, these disruptions have limited the industry’s ability to recover from the pandemic and, alongside changing weather and consumer preferences, could have longer-term effects on the economic outlook for cattle producers.

In this article, Cortney Cowley examines long-term pressures and prospects for the U.S. cattle sector. Going forward, U.S. cattle production faces three key pressures that may affect profitability: vulnerabilities along the supply chain; extreme weather conditions, particularly drought; and shifting demand from U.S. consumers. Although these pressures may shape cattle production in decades to come, growing international demand for U.S. beef—especially from emerging market economies—offers some prospects for industry profitability.

Publication information: Vol. 107, no. 1
DOI: 10.18651/ER/v107n1Cowley


Cortney Cowley

Senior Economist

Cortney Cowley is a senior economist in the Regional Affairs Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. She also serves as a special advisor on the agricultural econo…