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Drought has impact on cow population, beef prices

By Jillian Fertig, Reporter, jillian.fertig@kmiz.com
Published On: Mar 18 2014 09:07:06 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 18 2014 09:21:02 PM CDT

ABC 17's Jillian Fertig reports on how the recent drought conditions in 2012 and 2013 have impacted Missouri farms and beyond.

COLUMBIA, MO -

The U.S. cattle herd is at the lowest level since 1962, and beef prices are the highest they've ever been.

Beef producers and economists said the drought conditions are to blame.

Agriculture economist Scott Brown said, "I go back to 2011 and the drought that we had in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. It really started cutting U.S. inventories in the United States."

"You fast forward one year ahead to the 2012 drought that affected Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, continued in Texas. That made us cut our cow inventories even further, so that's really been the driver of these higher beef prices that consumers see at the grocery store today," he said.

Missouri is the number two beef cow producer in the country.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, Missouri has 1.82 million cows right now, which is down from more than 2 million in 2008.

Christi Miller, a local beef producer, said the drought has made it hard for farmers across the country to feed their animals.

"No hay to feed, no grass for them to eat, no water, you simply can't have the animals, so the cow numbers are down. People don't have any other choice but to sell their animals.

That has a direct effect on the price tags you're seeing when you go shopping.

"Fewer cows in the process, smaller amount of beef at the grocery store," said Miller.

In Columbia grocery stores, the average price of ground beef is $4.99 per pound, which is about 30% higher than it was just a few years ago.

"I think when we look at 2014 we're likely to be up another five and a half percent. In 2015, we're likely going to be up another three or four percent as well."

It will take two to three years to rebuild the cow herds nationwide.

Miller said that rebuilding process is expensive and slow.

"An animal is born, it takes two years to get a calf our of her, out of a female. Then another year to get that calf to market. So we're talking a number of years to get product to the market, from birth to plate."

While the worst part of the drought wasn't in Missouri, it still affects the state.

"I think it's really what's happening in a lot of other states. You know, you look around and it's a national market for beef and so what's happening in Texas, California, and Nebraska affects us in Missouri as well," said Brown.

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