By Selina Thor
The fact that California is experiencing a severe drought is all over the news. Californians are aware that they may need to cut down on car washes and shorten their showers, but the classic American meal that may not come to mind is the hamburger, a meal most Americans enjoy regardless of the weather, but is the weather affecting it? According to the state of California Governor’s Drought Task Force, “With California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, Governor Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages.”
A factor in the production of beef is the diet of the cattle, consisting mainly of pasture grass, hay, and grain, all of which are impacted by the drought. Pasture grass is quickly depleting, hay is being used up faster than it can be grown and baled, and grain is becoming more expensive to produce. The drought has affected both the quality and quantity of hay. Currently you will find drier, less nutrient-dense hay containing more weeds than average. As quality has been decreasing the price has been increasing. Mrs. Laurie Lucchessi, one of the family owners of Novato Horse and Pet Supply LLC claims, “Over the last few months keeping our barn stocked has become more and more difficult.” Over the past year hay prices at the Novato feed store have gone from $17.99 up to the current price $23.49, an increase of 31%. Lucchessi has had numerous complaints about the significant price increase and customers are wondering if there will enough hay to last until next year. This is important to cattle ranchers because when you run out of lush green pastures, the cows still have to eat, so you replace pasture with hay.
Mr. Dennis Cooper, owner of Cooper's Public Market in Novato, a store that sells only local farm fresh products, believes that the drought has affected the price of large-scale meat production. Cooper has not yet seen any change in the price or quality of the locally grown and produced meat products that he sells. Cooper claims that the ranchers he deals with have seen similar situations before and know how to handle it, although if the drought continues he believes that he may see the prices rise.
According to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board & National Cattlemen’s Beef Association wholesale prices of beef have increased since last year. Rib, ribeye roll, and boneless heavy have gone from $6.55 in September of 2013 to $7.19 in September of this year, and increase of 9.7%. Chuck and Shoulder cuts have gone from $1.94 in September of last year to $2.74 in September of this year, a 41.2% increase.
While your local burger joint may not be raising prices yet, be on the lookout for the possibility in the not so distant future.