Where's the beef? Cattle shortage causes prices to rise

November 04, 2003|LIZ MAPLES

Beef, it may not be for dinner.

Jim Davis, the Harrodsburg Kroger meat manager, said beef prices are now the highest he's seen since he started cutting meat in 1962. Ground beef prices have doubled since last year, and Davis has noticed more Kroger shoppers buying chicken or pork.

A shortage of beef cattle has driven prices up, according to industry experts.

Bob Ballard, who reports for State and Federal Market News, said there are less cattle because of the popularity of the meat-based Atkins diet and the mad-cow disease scare in Canada.

Ballard was at the Boyle County Stockyards Monday, where the price of cattle has shot up. Bulls that would have sold for 60 cents a pound last year went for more than 90 cents a pound. One load went for $1.04 a pound.


"That's an unheard of price," said Billy Horn, owner of the stockyards.

The local trend has followed a national one.

A reduction of the U.S. beef herd, early marketing of cattle and the closing of the Canadian border have sent beef prices "spiraling upward," Lee Meyer, agricultural economist at the University of Kentucky said in an extension service press release.

Wholesale prices have reached levels 75 percent higher than this time last year. Live steer prices have gone from 75 cents per pound to $1, according to Meyer.

Jason Kidd, manager in the meat department at the Danville Save-A-Lot, said the price of beef has gone up "tremendously," an average of $1 a pound on all cuts.

Meyer said that some grocers, worried about scaring shoppers, have raised prices 20 to 30 cents at a time, hoping demand will slow down and wholesale prices will go back to normal levels.

Western Sizzlin of Danville has already adjusted prices once. Jack Lynn, manager, said that the price of beef from the wholesaler has doubled, but the restaurant has spared its customers because the franchise buys some meat ahead at fixed prices.

Even so, he said that the restaurant has had to buy whole sirloin instead of peeled, which is a trimmer cut. The whole cuts have to be trimmed in the kitchen.

The wholesale beef that is for sale has been better and leaner, Ballard said. Ordinarily producers will try to fatten up their cattle before it is sold, so that it weighs more. Now cattle are being sold as soon as possible. The result is leaner meat.

The prices have "gone straight up," said J.W. Kiddwell, who has raised cattle in Lincoln County for 25 years. Prices "are the highest I've seen in my lifetime."

He and Ballard agree that fewer people are raising cattle. Meyer said that about 10 years ago people started eating less beef, and in turn farmers reduced their herds.

The shortage worsened this year when the U.S., Mexico and Japan closed their borders to Canadian beef after one cow with mad cow disease was found in Saskatchewan.

Canadian beef and cattle account for about 6 percent of the U.S. beef supply.

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