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Beef prices hit record highs
FANNETT - by Lauren Huet
If you love a good steak or hamburger, you may have noticed higher prices at the grocery store. The price of beef has hit record highs this year and the number of cattle in the U.S. is the smallest it's been since 1951.
Chuck Kiker raises cattle in Southeast Texas, and is the vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association. He says there are many factors contributing to the rising price of beef.
"We've had some severe drought in the last few years in different parts of the country that have caused herd liquidation," said Kiker.
Rising feed prices also made it more expensive to raise cattle.
"When they started mandating ethanol, that made the price of corn go up, so that made raising cattle and fattening them more expensive," said Kiker.
Which encouraged many ranchers to decrease their herds or quit.
"Well, it made it real easy for them to get out when you don't have any grass and you're having to buy feed," said Kiker. "You can't afford it, so they sold the cattle."
Southeast Texas cattle ranchers haven't been nearly as affected by the drought as ranchers in other parts of the country. Kiker's pastures are lush and green from plenty of rainfall. Many Southeast Texas ranchers are enjoying the higher beef prices. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that prices rose by four percent in February.
"It's pretty nice. People are all smiles when they come back from the sale barn," said Kiker. "I think 2 weeks ago meat reached a record high. It was 2 dollars and forty something cents a pound, and that's for the whole carcass."
Kiker says the price of beef fluctuates, but he thinks prices will stay about where they are right now.
"I don't think you're going to see the levels that we saw four years ago. Beef is going to stay higher than that," said Kiker. "We've reached a new plateau and I don't think- just the economy is not going to let it go down. You can't raise beef and lose money."
The higher prices are causing some ranchers to keep heifers, instead of sending them to market, to breed and increase their herd.
"Last year they would have gone to feed lots but instead they're bred and having calves," said Kiker, pointing to his herd. "It just takes more of the feeder cattle out of supply so there's not quite as many."
Meaning less cattle in the market, which also contributes to the higher prices. Although higher prices are causing many ranchers to grow their herds, Kiker doesn't believe prices are high enough to draw new ranchers into the business, and he says many ranchers are near retirement age.
"Until cattle become profitable enough that the young folks start getting back in, I think we're going to see high prices, because there's got to be some incentive for young people to get into it and carry on," said Kiker.
Despite the increase in price, Kiker says he doesn't think prices are high enough to keep people from enjoying beef.
"Look for the specials, the sales, and everyone can still eat beef. It's not that high yet," said Kiker.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price for a USDA choice steak this February, was an average of $5.28 per pound. In February of Last year, it was $4.90 per pound. The year before that, it was $4.78 per pound. Compare that with ground beef. This February, it was an average of $3.55 per pound. Last year, it was $3.38 per pound, and in 2012, it was $2.95 per pound.