Drought effects to be felt on summer beef prices

Last summer's drought is leading to more expensive meat at the grocery store.

Last summer's drought could lead to higher beef prices this year.

Some beef suppliers expect prices to rise by 15-20 percent by the summer, which could mean an extra 20 cents or more per pound, per customer.

Like most of us, Pat Hogan scours the grocery store for bargains.

"I care a lot what I pay, because I try to shop for the best price," Hogan explained.

But we're all about to get some serious sticker shock in the meat aisle. Beef prices are expected to go up just in time for summer grilling season.

Experts say your steaks, filets and burgers will stretch the family budget.

"All of my people I buy from, they send me a weekly sheet and all the arrows are pointing, they're going up," said Kincaid's Meat Market owner David Rollins.

Rollins owns the store, but also owns cattle on a farm in Michigan. He says last year's drought just took too big a toll on corn and feed for cattle. The lack of rain caused corn crops to suffer and grain prices to rise.

Butcher Chris Archer has seen the ramifications, too. He owns Archer's Meats and Catering in Greenwood.

"That drought is still hurting us," Archer said. "They didn't have the corn or the grain to feed them."

It comes down to simple math - less feed at the farm means fewer cattle in the herd and eventually fewer at the butcher shop. That means it's more expensive to buy beef when you head to the store.

"Fill your freezer now," Archer said, "because it's going to go up. There's just no ifs or buts about it."

Experts predict we could shell out four to five dollars more than we're paying now, depending on the cut of meat. That's leading some to believe beef could become a luxury item.

Others are making changes to save money already.

"More people are leaning towards the ground, the cheaper cuts," Archer said.

"We hear a lot more people asking for prices, you know, if we're having any specials and you see them shifting a little bit more to less expensive cuts. You can substitute. Like a flank steak in the summertime is great on the grill, but you might switch over to a flat iron steak. Very similar, but a less expensive one," Rollins explained.

It's not just beef prices on the rise.

Milk, eggs, even pork and chicken are all going up because of the drought. It's frustrating for shoppers like Hogan, who balance feeding their families with what it costs at checkout.

"Yep, we will make different choices," she said.

Experts say there are ways to still afford beef. Prices haven't gone up yet, so you could buy now and store the meat in the freezer. You can also get cheaper cuts of beef and marinate them for better flavor. Buying in bulk, rather than in smaller amounts, is a way to save money, too.