Big, beefy matters: Spike in meat prices predicted for fall

It’s looking ominous: All signs point towards a very expensive cheeseburger.

A recent story on the beef industry on NPR’s All Things Considered says that surging costs, flagging supply, and rising demand strongly suggest that US beef prices will jump through the roof in the next few months.

For starters, explains Yuki Noguchi, cow chow has gotten prohibitively expensive.  It’s not news that corn prices have shot up exponentially over the last year, driving the price of cattle feed up 50%.  But it’s more than corn: hay prices have more than doubled over the same period.

Throw in rising gas and diesel prices, and your profits are halved.  Might as well throw a pitchfork into your cattle ranching operation.

Many ranchers are selling off significant portions of their herds to cover costs — one of the reasons why the USDA shows that the national inventory of cattle is actually shrinking.

And it’s not just going to be meat that’s going to get suddenly pricier. I’m no expert, but I suspect that dairy will feel the brunt of that, too.  Across the pond, many UK dairies that that were undergoing the switchover to organic have changed back to more immediately affordable, chemically-intensive techniques.

That trend has some perplexing implications for the organic industry, in the US and elsewhere.  Sales of organic foods are predicted to do quite well, despite being surrounded by miserable company.  But does this mean that the burgeoning community of small, organic farms and dairies will shrivel up, leaving those who can afford to compete, like Niman Ranch and Horizon Organic, to reap the spoils?

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