Where’s the grass-fed beef?
Last summer we were cooking hamburgers at the beach. One fellow wasn’t in the mood for hamburger at first, but once he tried one, he remarked at how good it tasted. We’ve switched to grass-fed beef – and organic food in general – in the last few years because it seems safer and tastes better.
Last weekend, the checker-outer at Trader Joe’s tossed the small package of grass-fed hamburger into my blue and white cloth bag and told me that it was good time to get beef because the drought would be raising prices. “The California drought?” I asked. “Kansas, I think,” she said. I suppose I should have run to the meat counter and grabbed all they had because she was right.
How hard is the drought hitting California farmers? Here’s one more example — Marin Sun Farms, one of the pioneers of grass-fed beef, is going to start feeding some of its cattle on grain. There’s just not enough grass to keep them alive.
“We kept thinking we’d be fine, but we didn’t get any rain and we didn’t get any rain and we just reached a breaking point where we decided we had to pull out this other marketing plan,” says Marin Sun owner David Evans, who has been raising grass-fed beef on his family’s fourth-generation Marin County ranch since 1998.
The company’s marketing director, Jeff Bordes, says the decision was wrenching. “Marin Sun Farms has been built on 100% grass-fed beef since it started. It definitely has been a tough move for us. What this drought has done is really force us to diversify our program when we’re facing seasons like this winter. It was either do this or go out of business.”
Unrelenting drought across large swaths of the Great Plains, Texas and California has led to the smallest U.S. cattle herd since 1951, shrinking the supply of beef. That has sent prices higher for everything from rump roasts to rib-eyes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the average retail price per pound for fresh beef in January was $5.04, the highest price ever on records that date back to 1987. …
“Even the (beef) dog bones, those have gone up quite a bit,” [a meat market manager] said. “We used to give those away.”
The silver lining in the cloud hanging over California’s cattle industry is that a scarcity of cattle nationally has kept prices high, allowing ranchers to at least turn a modest profit that might help them later, said Malorie Bankhead, a spokeswoman for the California Cattlemen’s Association in Sacramento.
“Then it comes down to where will the cattle be that they can use to replenish their herds down the road,” she said.