Declining cattle herds lead to increased beef prices

Staff writer

Kansas is home to 5.8 million cattle, but that number is down 1 percent from last year. The decrease has increased beef prices in supermarkets across the state and country.

This year the U.S. has 87.7 million head of cattle, the fewest since 1951.

Todd Domer, vice president of communications for the Kansas Livestock Association, said droughts over the last two years have led to the decline. Because of the drought, hay and other feed prices have skyrocketed.

“When the cost of raising cattle goes up past what producers can afford, they sell their herds,” Domer said. “That is what we’re seeing. High cattle prices have been enticing people to sell for the past few years, the exception is that they’re not just selling steers to be processed, but also cows, the productive member of the herd.”

Dale Franz, owner of Dale’s Supermarket in Hillsboro has seen evidence of the price hike in his beef case.

“Ground beef, really all types of beef have gone up considerably,” he said. “It’s hard to say right now if people are not buying beef because of the prices, but we sure have been selling more pork.”

He believes the uptick in pork sales is because its prices, compared to beef, are considerably lower.

“I think people are looking twice at the prices, but we’ll have to see what comes of it,” he said.

Jerry Hess, meat manager at Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion, said he has seen their beef prices jump about $1 per pound in the last few weeks. He has had several people not buy beef because of the hike.

“It was kind of a shock,” he said. “People have been kind of complaining, but what can you do?”

Typically beef products like ground beef and roast jump $.20 to $.30 one week and will drop around that the next, leveling out prices, Hess said. Steak prices typically fluctuate around $.50 to $.70.

“Most everything made a substantial jump, and it’s looking like it will stay that way for the time being,” he said. “It’s hard to tell. We’ll just have to ride it out and see what happens.”

Domer said the drought has been so hurtful to herds across the country because it has been so widespread.

“In some places where there has been decent moisture this year we are seeing things normalize,” he said. “That includes parts of Kansas.”

However, because the drought has been so widespread, places that are seeing herd increases are being leveled out by places still in severe drought where producers continue to sell off herds.

“Selling is an individual rancher’s decision,” Domer said. “They have to take a look at their conditions and water supply and see if it’s the right move for their operation. There is an economic incentive to sell. Cattle prices are good.”

To combat the problem, groups like the Kansas Livestock Association are promoting less expensive steak cuts and other meats to help ease the cost.

“There is still a variety at the beef case that fits into almost every budget,” Domer said. “I also tell people to watch their local store sales ads. That can always save them some money.”

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