FACTBOX-US beef industry hurt by smallest cattle herd since 1952
Jan 17 (Reuters) - Cargill Inc, the privately held agribusiness conglomerate and a leading beef processor, said on Thursday it will close its Plainview, Texas, beef plant effective Feb. 1 because there are not enough cattle to supply it.
Industry analysts have expected a beef plant to close because fewer cattle have driven up cattle prices and have had U.S. beef plants operating in the red.
Three years of drought in the southern Plains cattle areas combined with high feed and fuel costs caused cattle producers to either shrink herds or go out of business.
* U.S. cattle herd as of January 1, 2012, was 90.8 million head, down 2 percent from a year earlier. It was the smallest January 1 supply since the 88.1 million head in 1952.
* The U.S. Agriculture Department will release its January 1, 2013, U.S. cattle supply on Feb. 1.
* The 2011 calf crop, which produces beef and dairy cattle, was 35.3 million head, down 1 percent from 2010, and the smallest since 34.9 million in 1950, USDA said.
* Preliminary USDA data shows 2012 U.S. beef production through Dec. 29 at 25.5 billion lbs, down 1.3 percent from 2011.
* U.S. 2012 cattle slaughter through Dec. 29 was estimated by USDA at 32.34 million head, down 3.6 percent from 2011.
* The decline in beef production has driven up retail beef prices.
* USDA's average retail beef price for fourth quarter 2012 was $5.10 per lb, compared with $4.98 a year earlier and nearly $4.47 in 2010.
* The increase in beef prices has not been enough to offset the higher cost beef companies have had to pay for cattle.
* Livestock advisory firm HedgersEdge.com said that U.S. beef companies have been operating in the red since early September 2012.
* HedgersEdge calculated beef plants' average operating margin for Thursday at a negative $36.95 per head of cattle. A week earlier it was a negative $66.75 per head.
(Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer and Theopolis Waters)