Cattle fetching good prices at Fort Scott market 

The number of U.S. beef cows has fallen to the lowest level since 1961 because of drought conditions in Plains states such as Kansas. As a result of reduced herd sizes, beef prices are higher.

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Local News

April 22, 2024 - 3:15 PM

Fort Scott Livestock Market Inc. owner Tyler Martin, and his grandfather Jim Martin, get ready for Friday morning’s livestock auction. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

FORT SCOTT — From ranch to table, the sizzle of steak comes is coming with a higher price tag as beef prices have increased.

There are various factors that come into play for the uptick, including a fairly simple explanation — a shortage of cattle. 

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of U.S. beef cows has fallen to the lowest level since 1961. The culprit? Mostly drought conditions in the cattle-heavy Plains states, including Kansas, and the rising costs of supplies to maintain herds.

“Everything is dependent upon so many other things,” said Tyler Martin, owner of Fort Scott Livestock Market Inc. 

Martin’s multi-generational family owned business has seen the effects of the drought. “We sold so many cows through the drought that now we’re seeing those numbers falling off,” he said. “All those cows were sold and they didn’t have any calves last year. A lot of people’s cow herds are smaller.” 

The drought conditions have led ranchers to reduce their herd size, which has resulted in less beef on the market.

Martin explained that we are now seeing the results of that in the current prices of the bred cows. “They’re trying to buy back and build their herds back,” he said. “It costs something to operate.”

This has translated to a minimal increase in grocery costs. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that ground beef has increased 5.5%, beef roasts are up 6.7%, and beef steaks are up 10.7%, compared to prices in January 2023. 

This is not a huge increase by any stretch of the imagination, but on par with the rising prices consumers are seeing overall in groceries.

“Supply and demand,” said Martin. “That’s really what it is.” Simply put, demand for beef has remained high while ranchers have had smaller herds to raise.

Pens were full of cattle Friday morning ahead of the day’s auction at Fort Scott Livestock Market Inc. The number of U.S. beef cows has fallen to the lowest level since 1961. Photo by Sarah Haney / Iola Register

FEED and supplies have also influenced the rising cost of beef. Martin notes that when the price of feed and supplies to maintain a herd goes up, everything else will typically increase. 

“It’s all connected,” he said. “We’re in an industry that takes a lot of time and resources. The cost of everything is more expensive now.”

Even geopolitical uncertainty can play a part in the increased costs, according to Martin. “When Iran bombs Israel, it affects the market here,” he said. 

Traditionally speaking, when an event like this occurs, Martin says it will affect the market negatively. “With the bombing happening on a Saturday, you would’ve thought the market would be down hard,” he said. “However, it was up.” 

This isn’t typical, said Martin. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “You’ve got civil unrest around the world — that should affect the market negatively. But, it didn’t. And we’re glad it didn’t.”

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