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Come grilling season, expect your sirloin steak to come with a hearty side of sticker shock. Beef prices have reached all-time highs in the U.S. and aren't expected to come down any time soon.
Extreme weather has thinned the nation's beef cattle herds to levels last seen in 1951, when there were about half as many mouths to feed in America.
"We've seen strong prices before but nothing this extreme," said Dennis Smith,a commodities brokerfor Archer Financial Services inChicago. "This is really new territory."
The retail value of "all-fresh" USDA choice-grade beef jumped to a record $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.91 the same time a year ago. The same grade of beef cost $3.97 as recently as 2008.
Langer said beef prices are the main reason his wholesale food costs have risen 45% in the last two years — much of it passed from his longtime supplier, R.C. Provision Inc. "For any profitability, you have to mark it up more and more," said the company's general manager, Jerry Haines, who has watched profit margins dwindle to about 1% from 5% in the last few years rather than hike prices enough to cover the increased costs.
The biggest fast-food chains aren't immune to the price pressure either. Experts say $1 value menus could soon be a thing of the past.
That's in line with research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which forecast all food inflation to be between 2.5% and 3.5% this year.
Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry....
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