Drought: Beef Prices at Record Levels Blamed on Dry Conditions

Image: Drought: Beef Prices at Record Levels Blamed on Dry Conditions

Thursday, 08 May 2014 03:06 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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Beef prices are reaching record levels in grocery stores across the country, and experts attribute rising costs to widespread drought conditions.

The American Farm Bureau Federation said that consumers saw six straight record-breaking months of high beef prices through March, with fresh beef products selling at around $5.40 per pound, a 23 percent increase over the 2010 to 2012 average.

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Pork, as well, has gone up, though not as dramatically, the AFBF said in a news release. The average retail price per pound was $3.83 in March, which was also record-setting, and was 18 percent higher than in 2010-2012.

The AFBF blamed “searing back-to-back droughts in 2011 and 2012,” which reduced the amount of feed for cattle.

The number of cattle in the United States sits at 87.8 million, the lowest recorded since 1951, according to the Sturgis Journal.

A Purdue University news release said that although some of the high prices can be attributed to drought, there’s an incomplete understanding of why the prices have skyrocketed.

“It is easy to list some possible causes, but none of them seem to be large enough to have caused such startlingly high prices,” said Purdue’s extension economist Chris Hurt.

Hurt listed possible reasons for beef prices being high, but said that some who guessed that demand may have been up as supplies were low were proven to be wrong when the first-quarter GDP growth was only 0.1 percent.

The unexplained high prices so far this year have shown cattle ranchers new possibilities for profit potential, Hurt said in the release. Citing National Oceanic and Atmospheric data, the release said it is projected that only 15 percent of the brood cows will be in drought areas; about 85 percent of the beef cows will be in regions that can support herd expansion.

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