WASHINGTON – America’s families might soon see record-high beef prices at the grocery store, thanks to the lowest cattle inventory in more than 70 years. American Farm Bureau Federation economists analyzed the USDA inventory report in the latest Market Intel.

There were 87.2 million cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 2, 2024, 2% lower than the same time in 2023. It’s the lowest inventory since 1951. Just four years ago, there were almost 95 million cattle in the U.S.

Farmers have been driven to sell off cattle because of severe drought conditions and the rising cost of supplies needed to support their herds. There are now fewer female cattle available for breeding, which means it will take time to restock the cattle population.

“The latest cattle numbers are a stark reminder of the challenges facing America’s farmers and ranchers,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Severe weather, high inflation and geopolitical uncertainty are taking a toll on farmers across the country, and families will see the effects in their grocery bills.”

“Fortunately, America has one of the most robust food supplies in the world, thanks in part to strong agricultural policies outlined in the farm bill. We encourage lawmakers to pass a new farm bill to ensure farmers can survive the tough times and continue to stock the pantries of America’s families.”

There are currently enough cattle in the supply chain for processing, which will help to stabilize prices in the short term. However, the Market Intel explains that as the cattle on feed supply begins to shrink based on fewer calves, processors will have to compete for cattle, which could lead to higher costs, especially in the second half of 2024. Consumers could see record high beef prices toward the end of the year and into 2025.

Read the full Market Intel here.