beef supply

Quentin Hope

After getting pummeled by drought and low cattle prices, many ranchers across the Midwest are eager to grow their herds. As they do, grass is turning into a hot commodity.

Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media

The U.S. cattle herd has changed dramatically over the last four years, largely thanks to drought.

The supply of beef has been in free-fall. Perhaps you’ve noticed sky-high prices for hamburger and steak.

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Drought is re-shaping the beef map and raising the price of steak. Ranchers are moving herds from California to Colorado and from Texas to Nebraska seeking refuge from dry weather. And cattle producers in the Midwest are making the most of it.

Wikipedia

Sharon Harvat drives a blue pick-up truck through a field of several hundred pregnant heifers on her property outside Scottsbluff in western Nebraska and notes, “On a warm day they’ll lay out flat like that...”.

Harvat and her husband John run their cattle here in the Nebraska panhandle during the winter and take them back to the mountains in northern Colorado when the calves are born. Harvat says, when she heard about a proposal to open up beef trade with Brazil, she felt a pit in her stomach.  “On an operation like ours, where we travel a lot with our cattle, that would probably come to an abrupt halt if there was an outbreak.”

Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

For the first time in nearly 10 years, the nation’s beef herd may be poised for growth, which could mean relief from rising meat prices. But with the fewest cattle in the beef supply since the 1960s, slow growth won’t cut prices anytime soon.