The price of your next burger may be hard to swallow. U.S. cattle herds have dropped to their lowest level in six decades, pushing retail beef prices to a record $5.04 a pound, according to the Texas Star-Telegram.
The Wall Street Journal reports that three years of persistent drought have ravaged rangelands in Texas, Kansas and other big cattle-producing states, increasing the cost of feed and forcing ranchers to reduce their herds. Beef prices have soared 13 percent over the last two years as cattle numbers dwindle and ranchers demand higher prices.
And we have’t seen the worst of it yet. MarketWatch says:
The USDA’s Economic Research Service projects that beef prices will rise faster than almost anything else this year. Don Close, a cattle economist with Rabo AgriFinance, says he thinks prices this year could rise 7 to 8 percent and roughly the same amount in 2015. Kevin Good, a senior analyst at cattle research firm CattleFax, says that “higher prices will continue through 2015 or 2016.”
Good said ranchers are rebuilding cattle herds, but it’s a slow process. Cows have a nine-month gestation, and calves are fed for 12 to 18 months before they are ready to be slaughtered.
Arnold Fernandez, a manager at Country Meat Market in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Star-Telegram that his customers are trying to cope with beef sticker shock, as per-pound prices have increased by 20 to 30 cents from last year. “A lot of people are buying in bulk to fill up their freezers because they know the price is going up,” he said.