The country’s calf crop has been depleted to its lowest level in 60 years, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, and it could take several years to replenish supply.
Consumers haven’t yet felt the pinch at the meat counter, but they will, said Jack Carson, spokesman for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department.
Starting this year, the retail price of beef could increase 4 percent to 5 percent, depending on consumers’ willingness to pay higher prices.
Industry experts say high market prices for cattle have persuaded many ranchers to sell rather than maintain heifers for breeding. The 2010 calf crop was estimated at 35.7 million head, 99 percent of 2009 and the smallest since 1950.
“Cattle are bringing more money on the market than they ever have before. It has created an incentive to sell,” Carson said. “The good news is they [ranchers] are getting more money for their cattle today. But tomorrow, they won’t have any to sell.”