Lower feed prices on their own might not be enough to encourage major herd expansion, though. According to Hurt, it will take higher calf prices as well.
Current calf prices are up slightly since June, but likely not enough to stimulate major expansion. So while heifer retention and expansion plans will begin this year, national beef production will drop by about 4 percent in the last half of 2013 and 5 percent in the first half of 2014, according to USDA.
The drop should lead to higher finished cattle prices, which would lead to higher calf prices.
“The industry might see the start of heifer retention this fall, but the magnitude of expansion is expected to be low and slow to get underway,” Hurt said. “Beef cow producers know that herd expansion is a long-term investment, and they generally want a more extended period of favorable returns before making major financial commitments.”