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Where's the beef?

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe Market meat manager Mike Suzadail restocks ground beef Friday morning.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Jim Thorpe Market meat manager Mike Suzadail restocks ground beef Friday morning.
Published March 03. 2014 05:01PM

Beef prices are on the rise locally because of weather conditions in the western part of the United States.

Add to that the cost of fertilizer and grain, and shoppers are paying nearly $4 a pound for hamburger.

Mike Suzadail, meat manager at Jim Thorpe Market, said,"There's no relief in sight. When the prices first started going up, the suppliers told us it would be for a few months, then eight months, then a year. We finally saw a drop about a week ago, but then I got a message that it will keep rising."

Suzadail has worked in the industry for 40 years.

"If you would have told me a couple of years ago that ground beef would be $4 a pound, I would have said you're crazy."

Steak prices are on the rise as well at area markets, with eye rounds costing in excess of $6 a pound.

Gary Bonser, meat manager of Country Harvest in Palmerton, said he has found that the cost of beef has steadily risen over the past few weeks.

"There was a price increase two weeks ago and another increase this week," Bonser said last week.

He said that Country Harvest uses several vendors from Pennsylvania to supply the market with meat.

Up with chicken

Instead, people are buying other meats such as chicken.

"There hasn't been a price increase in chicken," Bonser said.

Frank Kuhn of Mallard Market in Lehighton, said that meat prices were high because of the drought in the west, but he's seeing a drop in prices.

"The decrease might be attributed to a glut of meat because people weren't buying beef when the prices were higher," Kuhn said.

Kuhn said his supplier told him that the farmers had cut their herds down because of the drought and now they are having to build them back up, which takes time.

Last week Kuhn was able to sell ground beef for $2.99 a pound. That's less than he paid his supplier the previous week.

"My supplier told me that not only did they reduce the herds but they sold off the female steers, so it will take longer for them to build it up," Kuhn said.

Kuhn said that prices had gone up dramatically, but an abundance of meat has brought them back down.

"Local prices are all a matter of supply and demand," Kuhn said. "It's sell it at a lower price or let it rot."

Jake Thompson of Thompson Meat Market in Walnutport said that prices have been coming down.

"They were up five to six weeks ago," said Thompson, who is the son of owner, Reed Thompson. "I've noticed that the prices came down two weeks ago and came down again this week."

Thompson said, "People are still buying hamburger at $3.49 a pound or they could buy sausage at $3.39 a pound, which is a better value. If it were up to me, I'd eat the sausage."

Other problems

Bill Moreton, owner of Spring Mountain Farms in Lehighton said the drought isn't the only problem.

"Farmers in the west have been dumping herds for years," Moreton said, adding that beef production in the west is at an all-time low.

"Herds have been shrinking for a number of years," he added. "Herds are down to the level of the 1940s and 50s."

He added that on top of that, the population and the demand for beef has increased.

In addition, over the last few years, there's been a rise in beef production costs, which has also led to a decrease in the availability of beef products. The demand for beef may cause prices to go up.

199 pounds a year

Moreton said that the average amount of meat products a person in the United States eats in a year is estimated to be 199 pounds, which includes beef, pork, chicken and fish.

"That's light for me personally," he said. "I'm a meat eater."

Moreton said that with the bad economy, he has been selling a lot more ground meat and roasts. He said that even throughout the summer, when normally he sold a lot more steaks, people continued seeking the lower cost meats.

"Couple the bad economy along with the rising costs of production and the demand for more grass-fed beef, it will push up prices," he continued. "It's not just the weather, it's also the increasing costs of fertilizer."

Moreton doesn't know if the high prices will hit Spring Mountain Farms.

"It's different for us than most," he said. "We're here in our own loop and I have more control over costs."

People will choose other meats, he said.

"When something goes down, something else goes up," he said. "I can't keep pork on the shelves. It's been happening the last few years because of the economy."

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