MADISON, Wis. - John Lehman is a man who knows his meat. During 25 years at Jim's Meat Market in Madison, Lehman has watched the cost of anything he puts in his case crawl up a few cents here and a few cents there.
A couple of weeks ago, Lehman said the beef market came back to bite him. The wholesale price of ground chuck went from around $2 a pound to about $4 a pound. He said he has never seen costs double like that before.
"I've been doing this for 25 years. Never seen that happen. Ever."
Lehman said suppliers are dealing with a shortage in cattle that spurred on the higher prices.
John Freitag with the Wisconsin Beef Council confirmed the fact that smaller herds are to blame.
Freitag said when severe drought hit a couple of summers ago and feed was tough to come by, and a number of cattle farmers got rid of cows they couldn't support.
"Our cattle inventory is the lowest that it's been since 1951," Freitag said.
Freitag added it could be a while before we see any relief at the grocery store.
"I'm afraid it's going to be a year and a half, two years before they, you start to see them come down, just because how long it takes to produce a beef animal," Feitag said.
Terry Quam with Marda Farm in Lodi is raising cattle to sell them for breeding, not a bad business to be in when farmers are looking to expand their herds again. He said his female cattle are in high demand.
"For us, it's been a boom because we've been able to supply some of them people with females to help rebuild their herds, so it's been very good for us," Quam explained.
In the meantime, Lehman is bracing for some expensive steaks come summer, so he us buying up everything he can from suppliers while the price is still somewhat reasonable.
Lehman also is thinning out the cuts he puts in the case, so his customers won't have extreme sticker shock when they walk in.
"That's kind of what we suggest is just to eat a little bit less, which I don't like doing, but you know, sometimes we have to do that," Lehman said.
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