Beef at record-high prices as U.S. herd size dwindles

2012 drought bumped up feed costs

INDIANAPOLIS - The summer grilling season is coming with sticker shock as beef prices are hitting record highs.

Consumers can blame droughts that have led to the smallest U.S. cattle herd in 61 years.

Prices hit their highest just before the Memorial Day weekend when ground beef hit a record-breaking $3.51 a pound, but that isn't stopping some Indianapolis shoppers.

"It's gone up a little price-wise, but we still keep coming back to the store," said shopper Ron Deter, who was buying more than $100 of meat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of Friday, sirloin steak was selling for an average of $5.14 a pound, while ground beef is at $3.20. Analysts and store owners said those are historically high prices.

Dean Miller, who owns a meat shop on the west side, says beef prices are up 40 to 50 percent.

"Right now ground beef prices are staying pretty steady. It's the choice steaks that have gone up tremendously, and pork prices," Miller said.

Higher feed costs coupled with increasing demand on the smallest cattle herd in over six decades is to blame, and a price break isn't expected until next year.

That has some people bypassing the meat aisle.

"It's too expensive, and there's alternatives," said shopper Tom Quinn, who said he's sticking with chicken.

Experts say prices aren't likely to drop much before the next two grilling holidays -- Father's Day and the Fourth of July.

Follow Chris Proffitt on Twitter: @chrisproffitt

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