Monday, September 22, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Drought sends beef prices soaring, with no relief in sight

Beef prices

Butcher Jay Douglas prepares a beef round roast at Bunzel's Meat Market, Feb. 28, 2014. (Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

Next time you bite into a big, juicy hamburger, don’t be surprised if it bites back — at your bank account.

Unrelenting drought across large swaths of the Great Plains, Texas and California has led to the smallest U.S. cattle herd since 1951, shrinking the supply of beef. That has sent prices higher for everything from rump roasts to rib-eyes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the average retail price per pound for fresh beef in January was $5.04, the highest price ever on records that date back to 1987.

From grocers to meat markets to restaurants, a whole lot of folks are watching the situation carefully.

“Everybody’s kind of worried about it,” said Matthew Bayer, president of the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors and owner of Country Fresh Meats in Weston, Wis. “I don’t see them (beef prices) going down.”

This time of the year, beef prices often fall during what amounts to a lull between the holidays and the beginning of outdoor grilling season, said Chip Bunzel, third-generation co-owner of Bunzel’s Old-Fashioned Meat Market in Milwaukee.

But this year, “Beef really didn’t drop much since the holidays,” Bunzel said, and that sent the price of everything from beef short ribs to ground chuck higher.

“Even the (beef) dog bones, those have gone up quite a bit,” he said. “We used to give those away.”

Like consumers, Bunzel said he feels the squeeze.

“It’s hard because your income isn’t going up as fast as the products are going up,” he said. “Everybody complains about it. It’s like gasoline. Gas goes up and everybody complains about it, but they still use it. You have to still put gas in your car, and you still have to eat.”

So do cattle — and there’s the rub.

When a calf is born on a ranch, it is usually put out to graze on grass and pastureland. When it doesn’t rain, those pastures dry up. Without grass, the animals have to be fed something else.

“They can’t eat wind, water and scenery,” said John Freitag, executive director of the Wisconsin Beef Council in Madison.

But other feed types of late have been extremely expensive, as prices of feed grains — primarily corn — soared because of reduced supplies brought on by drought.

“Hay prices are just going through the roof,” said Kevin Kester, a fifth-generation rancher whose operation covers 22,000 acres in central California.

As a result, cattle producers have been selling off their animals because they can’t afford to feed them. In Texas and Oklahoma alone, “There’s a million-plus head of cattle that aren’t here anymore,” Freitag said. “Some guys just decided it was easier to plant corn than it was to raise or feed cattle.”

All the beef that hit the market when those herds were culled theoretically should have driven prices lower. Yet that didn’t happen, USDA data show, as demand for beef and sources of protein around the world has soared.

“The growth of the middle class in developing countries probably has more to do with the increase in demand and related prices than anything else,” said Jeff Sindelar, an associate professor who studies the meat industry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In other words, more people around the world can now afford to have a steak or burger while there are fewer animals to meet that demand. The result has been predictable.

“The cost of meat has gone up significantly — 30-40 percent and in some cases 50 percent — in the past five to seven years,” Sindelar said.

There are signs that the beef cattle herd may be coming back, Freitag said, and heavy rain fell late last week in California.

“I’m scratching and clawing and trying to hang on and see what Mother Nature brings us over the next 60 days,” Kester said. “It might be a very short-term relief for three or four weeks.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said last week that dry conditions have intensified in the Great Plains, from Nebraska to Texas.

According to the USDA, more than half the total value of U.S. sales of cattle comes from five states: Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, California and Oklahoma. Portions of each of those states are still experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions.

“Roughly the southern half of the Great Plains region is facing a potential fourth consecutive summer of drought,” according to the Drought Monitor report.

In Texas, more than half the state’s range land and pastures were rated very poor to poor as of Feb. 23.

Complicating the situation: Even when conditions improve, it will take time to replenish beef cattle supplies. “From conception to plate is three years,” Freitag said.

Mcclatchy-Tribune News Service

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Vaca Christian hits FM airwaves

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Popeye’s seeks Fairfield site

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
North Bay Pediatrics celebrates anniversary

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B8

Sutter Solano has new leader

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B8

 
.

US / World

More drought forecast next year across West

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
2016 may loom, but Jeb Bush is focused on business

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

North Korea powerful temptation for some Americans

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

Thanks go out to Telstar Instruments

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
.

Living

.

Entertainment

TVGrid Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A10

 
TVGrid Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

.

Sports

Donaldson’s walk-off HR powers A’s past Phillies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Penalty nixes Raiders rally, Patriots win 16-9

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Giants swept by Padres; fall 4 ½ behind Dodgers

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Stanton leads Cardinals past 49ers 23-14

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Armijo boys run to 2nd-place finish in Irvine

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
Hamilton wins in Singapore, takes F1 title lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Ex-Titans kicker Bironas killed in car crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Seahawks hold off Broncos 26-20 in overtime

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

NFL roundup: Cowboys erase 21-point deficit, beat Rams 34-31

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Hur pulls away for LPGA Tour win in Alabama

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9 | Gallery

Logano wins at New Hampshire in 2nd Chase race

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

 
.

Business

 
Native Americans getting final settlement payments

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

5 ways to protect yourself from data breaches

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Dilbert Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Frank and Ernest Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Pickles Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Word Sleuth Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge Sept 22

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Get Fuzzy Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Wizard of Id Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Beetle Bailey Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Sudoku Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Word Sleuth Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7