Where's the beef? It's at the market, ready for your July Fourth barbecue, and so is the chicken. And both are almost sure to cost you more than last year.
Blame it partly on the drought last summer in the Southern Plains, which left chicken and beef in tight supply this year. Another factor: growth in demand for poultry both here and abroad. Blame it also, experts say, on fuel and grain price increases since 2008.
Depending upon the specific cut, beef will cost from 3.5 percent to 5 percent more on average nationally than last July Fourth, says John Anderson, deputy chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington. He says the drought caused parched grasslands, which led cattle ranchers to reduce their herds. “So the cattle moved into the supply chain sooner and now they're gone,” Anderson said.
Ricky Volpe, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the drought caused grain prices, including feed for chickens, to increase, while exports were reduced. Both led growers to cut back on production.
In the Northeast, ground beef prices were 7.5 percent higher last month than a year earlier, at $4.03 a pound, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sirloin steak was up by almost 14 percent, at $6.92 a pound. “There's a shortage of beef across the board and everybody is paying the price,” said Pat Iavarone, chief executive of Iavarone Bros. supermarkets, a chain with outlets in New Hyde Park, Wantagh, Woodbury and Maspeth, Queens.
Prices for whole chickens were up 7 percent in May from a year earlier, at $1.54 a pound, labor statistics said.
But the news isn't all bad for shoppers. Overall food prices are expected to rise 2.5 percent to 3 percent this year — compared with last year's 5 percent price increase over 2010, Volpe said.
With supplies ample, pork prices were up only modestly in May from a year ago in the Northeast, the bureau said, although it depended on the cut; bacon was 11 percent higher at $4.98 a pound, but boneless pork chops were down by 2.7 percent at $4 a pound, according to the bureau.