Like many of you, I find myself strolling past the meat counters while I’m grocery shopping to see what the prices are on meat products. This past Sunday, I was in Albertsons browsing the meat prices and selections when the guy behind the counter asked if he could help me find anything.
I explained that I felt a bit guilty shopping for steaks since we raise beef at home. But my freezer had gotten low on steaks as I waited for a home-raised steer to be processed in a local shop, which is extremely difficult to schedule right now and at least two months’ notice is required. However, I had company coming for dinner and wanted to grill steaks, so I found myself at the meat counter.
He said, “great, what cut can I get for you?”
I mentioned that I had noticed a sign promoting a sale on ribeye steaks. But they were ON SALE for $19.99 per pound. I asked him how that price could be “on sale.”
He simply replied, “yeah, we were finally able to put our beef on sale… this is lower than they were last week.”
I politely explained that the prices they are asking for beef in the store is “out of whack” compared to what producers and feeders are being paid for their cattle.
He asked me what the live cattle that the ribeye steaks were harvested from cost and I told him anywhere from $0.95 to $1.05 per pound right now. I went on to explain that clearly the price of steak couldn’t be $0.95 per pound as the packer and retailer need to make money as well, but there is no trickle down to the feeders finishing the cattle or the producers raising the cattle.
He was quite shocked at my answer. He went on to share that he grew up on a farm and rancher operation in northern Montana but wasn’t able to return as there was not enough money to go around. So, he went to college and chose a different career path.
I pointed to the sign promoting the $19.99 per pound “sale” and said, “this is why you couldn’t go home and work on your family operation. Meat prices are sky high, yet ranchers across the country struggle to make a living. Like I said, prices are out of whack.”
Not to sound like a broken record, but this is a serious issue that must be addressed. How many more young people can our industry afford to lose because the ranching career doesn’t offer a sound living? No wonder the average age in agriculture is around 65 years old. The best way to encourage the next generation to return to the operation is through profits. If you manage your operation well and mind your p’s and q’s, there is no reason that business shouldn’t remain profitable. Those of us in American agriculture are saddled with the challenges of feeding the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, yet many operations are struggling because today’s pricing structure for cattle and grain isn’t functioning correctly.
If we want “sustainable agriculture” in this country it comes down to one thing – SUSTAINABILITY = PROFIT. It is that simple. We are challenged to raise more product on less acres each and every year… and we do. We are rising to the challenge and meeting, and even exceeding, our expectations – we shouldn’t be facing the financial struggles many are in order to do so.