A national shortage of beef could double prices this summer at butcher shops.
Dan Schaefer, an animal sciences expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it's all about supply and demand, and it starts with a shrinking U.S. beef herd.
He said that since 1996, the nation's herd has been dwindling, from 100 million in 1996 down to 89 million now.
"The decrease in the U.S. cow herd is related in large part to a drought, which has been widespread in the west for the last decade. We experienced it with intensity this past summer," Schaefer said.
At Jim's Meat Market on Madison's north side, owner John Lehman said Monday that for several cuts of meat, his costs are more like what they should be in June or July -- traditionally the most expensive months of the year -- because more people are grilling.
"There seems to be very little doubt that beef prices are going to be high this spring and summer," Lehman said. "We're kind of worried about what's going to happen. June is my highest prices -- what are they going to be at?"
Lehman has been telling customers to stock up on their meat now. He said that with the of rib-eyes, they're getting some good deals with suppliers, but in the next month or so, those deals will be hard to come by.
Experts said some cuts are expected to double in price.
Producers are closely watching trade practices in Japan. Experts said policy changes could soon happen that would make it more attractive for Japan to import U.S. beef, which would again bring down supply and raise prices.