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Sticker shock at the meat case

If you buy meat, you’ve probably found yourself doing a double-take at the big numbers on those little price stakes next to the rib-eyes, roasts and other beef cuts. And if you went ahead and bought those cuts anyway, you’ve got plenty of company. That helps explain why meat prices are going through the roof, explained CALS animal scientist Dan Schaefer in a recent CALS podcast.

“The supply of cattle is as low as it has been since 1951,” he says. Add to that the fact that consumers are willing the pay the prices, and that we’re exporting 11 percent of our global beef to global markets—principally Japan.

Beef supplies have been suppressed by the prolonged drought in the western U.S.. Schaefer says. There have only been two years since 1996 that beef cow numbers have increased. In all other years, producers have been slaughtering cows due to a lack of feed, and, in 2007 and 2008, because feed prices were too high to make beef profitable. “So we’ve been liquidating for about 20 years.”

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