Beef, pork prices climb

Factors include thinning cattle herds, disease in pigs

Grilling likely will cost a lot more this summer.

Climbing demand from Asia combined with cattle herds thinned by droughts in the Southwest and unexpected storms in the West have boosted beef prices, and pork has been hit by an epidemic that has been killing litters of piglets.

"There's been lots of different factors," said Dan Volkers, the manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, but the results – higher prices – have been the same for consumers, restaurants, feedlot owners and butcher shops.

The price consumers are paying in the Midwest for ground beef was up 11.8 percent in April over the previous year and 4.4 percent over the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A round, boneless, USDA Choice steak has gone up even more in price, skyrocketing 17.8 percent in one year, statistics show.

While pork products also have climbed, some items are starting to come down in price.

The price of ham, including bone-in and boneless cuts, has dropped 3.2 percent over the previous year and 8.2 percent over the previous month, while pork chops have somewhat leveled out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their cost nudged up 0.1 percent from March to April though it remains 6.9 percent higher than it was last year.

When the price increases first started happening, people stopped buying, said Mike Mazzone, the owner of the independent grocery store Joseph's Marketplace in Crystal Lake.

"They go check out other stores to see if it's cheaper, but when they see it's gone up everywhere, they come back," he said.

People might be buying less meat but not by a huge percentage, and the prices are affecting what people are picking, Mazzone said.

Rhonda Weidner, who bought Jones Packing Company in Harvard with her husband and brother a year ago, agrees, adding that the only market that's really been hit is the roasters who buy whole hogs to roast.

Her business, which deals mostly in custom orders but also operates a retail store, had to raise its prices slightly for the animals it purchases to resell, she said.

Crystal Lake's 1776 Restaurant also has had to raise its prices though only for the specials, owner Andy Andresky said. He hasn't had to touch the regular menu.

"We're not downsizing steaks, but we are bumping up the prices on the specials here and there," he said. "We also generate prices down if we can buy bulk and get better prices."

It might take a while for the prices to rebound, especially for the beef industry, said Michele Aavang, who raises cattle on the farm she owns near Woodstock.

Some ranchers, especially in the Southwest, have been selling their herds, evening their breeding stock, Aavang said. With pregnancies lasting nine months and cows unable to have cows until they're 2 years old, it will take time to rebuild those herds.

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