Anyone looking to get a burger fix next weekend could see a stabilization in rising meat prices as the Fourth of July holiday approaches, local grocers and agricultural experts say.
According to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture prices of fresh beef products increased by over $1 per pound from April to May during the early months of the coronavirus crisis. However, meat prices are beginning to stabilize, experts say, as meatpacking industry workers return to their jobs and production resumes.
Debbie Young, owner of Christian Corner Meats in Anniston, believes that customers should see a relief as prices come down. Young said she has seen wholesale prices from her sellers fall in the last few weeks.
“We have been blessed to keep food in the store, and to be able to pass those discounts on to the community,” Young said.
Alabama Department of Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate said that with most beef and pork plants working with half their normal workforce and with poultry plants at 67 percent capacity because of the pandemic, producers could not meet the demand for the products.
“The system is built on a large capacity of workers in production plants,” Pate said.
He said most plants have returned to full capacity, and prices should fall.
However, Ken Kelley, a farm and agribusiness management agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, explained that with the summer grilling season beginning, predictions in cattle and beef prices can be hard to make, especially with coronavirus concerns still high.
Kelley said there are many other factors that affect pricing besides production in factories alone. With many factories working at partial capacity, there was a “backup” of the feeding system for livestock.
“The way the beef system works in the U.S. is that cow-calf producers from all over the country raise calves, which are then moved to pastures for high quality grazing and then on to feedlots in the Midwest, Texas, Kansas, etc., etc.”
“The reasons they go there are numerous, but mainly because of the fact that most of the corn in the U.S. is grown there,” Kelley said. “They are finished to a point of being ready for processing and then moved to the processor. When the processors are limited, then the supply is bottlenecked.”
Kelley went on to say that prices for ribs, for instance, are high for this part of the season, but that if wholesale prices fall, the price for consumers could stay flat.
“We would expect them to fall a bit into the fall if production continues unabated,” he said.