When cattlemen get together, talk soon turns to prices. Yes, some will be on what the calves sold for or the price of fed steers. But quickly the conversation will shift to the other dollar figure — costs — what land prices have done or the cost to maintain a cow or the cost of gain in a feedlot. Those high-dollar marks say we have entered a new era in the cattle industry.

What you likely did not know is how all of this relates to what the consumer is paying for beef today. As we entered the December holiday season, the average Choice grade retail beef price was at an all-time monthly high of $5.41/lb. That was 5.9% higher than the previous year and 80.3% higher than the 2000 price of around $3.00/lb. You may wonder how that compares to other proteins. Pork is tagging along with a similar increase, its December 2013 average retail price of $3.78/lb. being up 8.6% from 2013 and up 50.4% since 2000. Beef’s challenge is clearly poultry: the composite retail broiler price in December was $1.96/lb., up just 1.1% from 2012 and only up 30.6% since 2000. Turkey averaged $1.72/lb. in December. (Source: December 2013 Daily Livestock Report)

Another interesting way of looking at this is the Cattle-Fax comparison (figure below). In 2000, beef was 7% higher than pork and 78% higher than poultry, but by the end of 2012, beef was 35% higher than pork and 148% higher than chicken.

The message this sends to cattle producers is pretty simple: even though beef is a much desired protein, we had better produce a quality eating experience that makes it worth the price.

January 2014: Did you know...