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June 2, 2014

Where's the Beef?

It will be more expensive to put beef on the barbecue this summer because of a variety of factors. While it could be a problem for consumers, area farmers are benefiting from the situation, several involved said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County educator Mariane Kiraly said weather problems in key beef producing states, starting more than a year ago, were among the factors that caused farmers to cull their herds. This included storms in South Dakota, and droughts in Texas. They could no longer afford to feed them, so the cows were sent to market. The laws of supply and demand have caused prices to rise as people haven’t changed their eating habits, including attending summer barbecues, she said. 

The prices have nearly doubled for culled dairy cows in the past two years, going from 40 cents a pound to a recent average of about $1.20. Such culling is down as milk prices remain above the cost of production, Kiraly said. These cows make up about 30 percent of the beef supply, including hamburger. Beef cattle breeds that provide the higher grades sell for more. Those prices mirror a similar increase.

The drought conditions aren’t expected to change soon. It takes about two years to raise an animal for processing, she said.

Business has been good for Norm and Arlene Schubert in Davenport, who raise registered Charolais beef cattle. In their 20 years in business, “We have had one of our best years ever,” he said. They have about 55 head. About six years ago, the farm was getting 35-40 cents a pound for a 500-600 pound heifer. He sold such animals recently for $1.60 a pound. 

He first noticed the increase about a year ago. 

“There was a time I told people it (farming) was a way of life.  Now I have the pleasure of telling people it is a good business,” Schubert said. 

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