- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) - The average price for a pound of fresh beef is the highest in at least 27 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The lingering effects of drought in California, the Great Plains and Texas have led to the smallest U.S. herd size in 60 years, said Austin Arndt, president of the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association.

The dwindling supply, coupled with record beef exports in 2013, means high prices for consumers nationwide. The average price for a pound of fresh beef reached $5.04 in January, the highest on record dating back to 1987, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Holmen Locker and Meat Market owner Scott Stettler has seen wholesale beef costs jump 60 cents a pound over the past few months.

“This is an all-time high,” he told the La Crosse Tribune (http://bit.ly/1gUEza5 ).

Due to seasonal demand for roasting cuts, the price increase has been more dramatic for beef rounds, chuck and rumps. Other cuts, such as porterhouses, rib-eyes and strip loins, have held steady.

Stettler absorbs some of the price increase to keep products affordable for his customers, but he has had to adjust in order to meet profit margins.

Meanwhile, it’s a bull market for beef producers.

“It’s great when you’re selling,” Viroqua cattle farmer Dan Jacobson said.

The price of feeder calves - young steers and heifers sent to feedlots to be fattened up before slaughter - has soared to about $1.90 per pound, he said. Fed cattle prices are about $1.50 per pound.

“Those numbers transfer right into the grocery store,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of $4 and $5 hamburgers.”

Jacobson has about 40 cows due to calve this year, his lowest number ever. And with livestock producers across the nation taking advantage of the high sale prices for their cattle, he said, herd numbers likely will remain low for the next few years.

___

Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com