Beef prices trending downward, mid-Mo consumers could see relief

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COLUMBIA - After a year of record beef prices in 2014, mid-Missouri consumers could soon see some relief, according to MU agricultural economics professor Ron Plain. 

"The futures market is predicting a fairly sharp falloff in cattle prices month-to-month from now through July or August," Plain said. "Grocery store prices should begin to moderate as we move toward summer."  

Plain attributes the drop to an expanding cattle population. 

"High cattle prices cause producers to want to expand," Plain said. "More calves born will eventually lead to more beef in the grocery store and then lower prices."

Plain said other factors could also play into lower beef prices.  There is an ongoing labor dispute affecting West Coast ports, meaning less beef is being exported to Asia, which could help consumers by forcing suppliers to sell more beef in the U.S., he said.

"About 6 percent of the beef we produce on any given day goes out to the West Coast docks, but not now, so we're leaving a little bit more beef on the market," Plain said.

Plain said if the market can't export it means "better bargains in the meat case in the grocery stores."

The port shutdown particularly affects Missouri beef producers because this is a heavy cattle producing state, he said, adding it could have lingering effects on beef prices for weeks.

"Even if a contract agreement is reached, it's going to be several weeks before the backlog in product can be moved through those ports," Plain said.

Looking ahead a few months, favorable weather could push prices further downward in the short term, he said.

"If it turns hot and dry this summer, and we're short on grass, that will push more cattle off the farm and into packing plants and push beef prices down a bit faster than what we're expecting," Plain said.