Meat prices up, down as grilling season kicks off

Adam Russell, Texas AgriLife Today

June 9, 2023


Consumers are likely to see a mixed bag when it comes prices on beef, port and poultry cuts this grilling season. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)

Texas Crop and Weather Report – May 31, 2023

Grilling season has begun, and consumers should expect a mixed bag when it comes to meat options for summer cookouts, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said the summer grilling season typically kicks off during Memorial Day weekend, as Americans come together to celebrate and remember the nation’s military veterans. This year, consumers will likely see lower prices for some grilling favorites like pork spareribs and chicken wings, and higher prices on beef favorites like briskets and steaks, Anderson said. “It looks like we should be able to find some deals on chicken and pork for cookouts, but retail beef prices continue to stay high on most cuts. Even ground beef for hamburgers is a little higher this year compared to this time last year.”

Brisket, burgers cost more at start of grilling season

Wholesale beef prices are higher across primal cuts, and Anderson attributes the rising prices to lower beef production. Beef production is down 5% compared to last year, when the U.S. set a record.

“We’ve had a shrinking beef cattle herd the last few years, and so many cows and heifers went to market because of drought,” he said. “Demand doesn’t seem to be slowing, which is contributing to higher retail prices.”

Wholesale 90% lean ground beef was up slightly – $2.77 per pound this year compared to $2.73 per pound last year, while 50% lean grinds were $1.89 per pound compared to $1.05 per pound last year.

Brisket prices stumbled after peaking at $3.05 per pound for choice primal cuts in September 2021, but they have been climbing in recent weeks. Anderson said wholesale choice brisket was $2.31 per pound last week compared to $2.09 per pound this time last year, a slight discount from the five-year average of $2.54 per pound.

“Briskets got so expensive; prices were so high that people were buying fewer, and I think some restaurants may have even cut back and been willing to run out of barbecue,” he said. “Folks may notice higher brisket prices, but they’ve been higher.”

Steaks were also priced higher this year compared to 2022. Anderson said choice ribeye steaks were $8.92 per pound wholesale compared to $8.54 per pound a year ago. But the increase is well below the price for the same cut just last month – $10.70 per pound.

“I suspect some spot buying by grocers to make sure they had specials going into the holiday drove prices up some,” he said. “But those prices came down in the runup to the Memorial Day weekend.”

Pork, poultry prices fall as grilling season kicks off

Chicken and pork prices have tumbled from record high prices, Anderson said. For instance, chicken wing prices, after skyrocketing in recent years, have come back down to Earth. Anderson said wholesale wings were 88 cents per pound compared to $1.86 per pound last year.

Chicken breasts have also fallen from a record high of $3.35 in May 2021. Wholesale breasts were $1.39 per pound compared to $3.56 per pound this time last year.

Anderson noted that grocery stores were more willing to feature chicken cuts on special compared to last year. Features are items grocery stores run special prices on to attract customers. Grocery store special features on poultry were double – 14% versus 7% — what they were last year. 

Wholesale pork prices have experienced similar declines, he said. Spareribs, a classic barbecue offering, were $1.44 per pound compared to $2.41 per pound last year. Bellies, which deliver another pork powerhouse – bacon – were 97 cents per pound compared to $1.65 per pound. Hams and pork butts are the only pork cuts that increased. 

Low wholesale pork prices may translate into better prices for consumers, but they are hurting pork producers, Anderson said. Low cutout prices are making it difficult for farmers to break even despite lower feed prices.

“There are some pretty great items on the pork and poultry side for consumers,” he said. “But the pork industry is struggling.”

Consumers still seeing high retail prices

Anderson said wholesale prices for beef, pork and poultry may have experienced ups and downs, but that retail prices have remained relatively high.

The price margin between wholesale packer prices and what consumers pay at grocery checkouts is historically large, Anderson said. Higher fuel and electricity costs as well as wages, packaging and other costs all contribute to the wholesale-retail rift. 

Retail pork, for instance, is lower than last year, $4.73 per pound compared to $4.89 per pound, but much higher than the five-year average of $3.90 per pound.

Unemployment is very low, gas prices are lower, wages are higher, and the economy is growing despite a difficult run of inflation, he said.

“Overall, people are still buying, and prices aren’t high enough to change some habits that might make retailers drop prices on some items that are more in line with wholesale prices,” he said. “But those changes are never immediate, and the ups and downs in retail are hardly ever as dramatic as wholesale because stores don’t want to drive customers away with big price swings.”


AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:


Soil moisture remained adequate to short. Another wet week caused corn condition to decline and slowed cotton development in some areas. Other areas experienced warm, dryer weather which allowed producers to get into fields. Corn was stressed with chlorosis from wet soils and possibly low nitrogen levels in the soil. Wheat quality was standing well and holding on without sprouting, however any additional rain may result in further harvesting delays. Sorghum crops were lush, and the earliest planted fields started to head out last week. Pastures were developing well and there was plenty of forage available to livestock. Some pastures were starting to decline in nutritional quality as heavy grass stands matured. Some producers cut pastures before the rain came through. Other areas remained dry and allowed producers to bail the cut hay. Overall, rangeland and pasture conditions were fair to good. Livestock were in excellent condition.


Spotty to heavy rain was reported with totals ranging from 0.5-2 inches. The recent rainfall improved soil profiles, pasture and rangeland conditions, and water ponds for livestock. Farmers were getting ready for cotton planting and were optimistic due to the moisture received so far. The few stocker calves left on wheat pasture were shipped to market. Wheat grain harvest was delayed in most areas due to the rainfall and ground moisture. Some wheat was able to be harvested, but producers in most areas were waiting for dryer weather.


Conditions dried and allowed producers in fields. Some crops were damaged by the recent storms but were responding well. Crops were in good condition. Some grain sorghum was beginning to color. Most corn was in the late dough stage and looked exceptional. Cotton was in various stages and looked good. Some rice was starting panicle development. Weed and insect control was ongoing. Rangeland and pasture conditions were excellent for most producers. Hay baling began for most first cuttings and more bales should be cut and baled over the coming weeks with drier conditions. Hay quality and quantity were expected to be very good. Cattle were in excellent condition, and livestock markets were holding strong. 


A few places in our region received rainfall. Most counties were beginning to dry out and some areas already needed more rain. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate. Hay production was in full swing. Producers were cutting ryegrass and clover crops as quickly as possible. Warm-season forages were growing faster. Cattle markets remained strong, and livestock were in fair to good condition. Fly populations on cattle were high. Wild pigs continued to be a problem for most producers. Blueberries were ripening early and were ready for harvest. 


Soil moisture levels were very short to surplus. Pasture and rangeland conditions were poor to excellent. Corn and sorghum conditions were poor to excellent with most areas reporting good crop conditions. Some corn was in the silking stage. Wheat was in fair to excellent condition with harvesting underway. Cotton was planted, and some fields were squaring.


There was widespread rainfall with some areas receiving 2-5 inches. There was also some hail damage reported in a few fields.  Much of the farming activity came to a temporary halt. The topsoil moisture improved but there was still a deficit in subsoil moisture. The corn crop was coming up very well and cotton planting was doing well with emergence in two to three days. The corn that was planted before the rain looked good, but many acres were still waiting to be planted. Winter wheat and sorghum conditions were poor to fair. Rangeland and pastures were greening up and growing but remained in poor to fair condition. Very few pastures were stocked because grasses needed to recover, and many ranchers liquidated their stock. Supplemental feeding of remaining herds continued. 


Temperatures were rising. Sporadic rain fell over some areas. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good. Row crops looked very good. Hay baling was underway, and summer grasses were growing. Cattle were in excellent condition with good grazing. Winter wheat was close to being harvested. Corn looked to be in excellent condition. Soybeans were doing well.


Temperatures were seasonal with days in the lower-90s and the overnights in the mid-60s. The district received about 0.15-1.5 inch of rain that improved soil moisture and rangeland conditions. Cotton planting was behind schedule due to wet conditions but made very good progress. A few cotton fields were planted prior to the rains. Temperatures were below average, but crop emergence was still very good. Corn and sorghum were making good progress. Wheat was drying down and should be ready to harvest soon. Livestock were in fair condition. Rangeland and forage conditions were showing signs of mild improvement.


Areas received 1.4-6 inches of rain, and temperatures were cooler. Wet conditions halted most planting activities and other fieldwork including wheat harvesting. Some fields held standing water, but the rainfall was expected to help crops and warm-season grasses get off to a good start. Tanks caught good runoff water. Corn and sorghum were in good to excellent condition. Producers were hoping to cut hay and forages in coming weeks, including early planted Sudan grass fields. There were some concerns about sprouting in wheat. Rangeland and pasture conditions were expected to improve following the rain. Many pastures were reseeded prior to the rainfall, and emergence was good. Livestock looked good to excellent.


Soil moisture levels were adequate to surplus. Some rain was reported, but not enough to slow fieldwork, and more rain was in the forecast. Pastures were in poor to excellent condition.
Livestock were in good condition with plenty of available forage. Ponds were replenished. Optimism remained high as cattle and calf prices continued to be strong and inch upwards. Corn was already head high in many fields and starting to tassel. Some pastures were being cut for hay, and others were shredding ryegrass and clover to allow summer forage growth. Grasshopper nymphs were reported, but not in significant numbers. Armyworms and stem maggots were a concern. Cotton planting was about a month behind due to excess moisture and cooler morning temperatures. Some cotton was replanted. Weed control was also behind due to wet conditions.  


Rain continued, and temperatures were slightly lower. Precipitation amounts ranged from just under 1 inch to 1.50 inches, and more rain was in the forecast. Tank water levels were replenished. Burn bans were lifted. Pastures were responding well to the rain, and row crops looked good. Insect pests were becoming more noticeable as temperatures remained consistently high. Producers were beginning to cut and bale hay, but the rain was not cooperating. Rangeland conditions remained variable depending on grazing and rainfall. Some properties remained overgrazed, while others were better off due to higher moisture conditions and low stocking rates. Dry weather was needed to get the wheat crop out before it starts falling over or sprouting. Cotton was planted and emerged, and the corn and sorghum crops looked excellent. Beef cattle body condition scores averaged 4.5. Sheep and goat prices were down, but cattle prices were exceptionally high. Livestock and wildlife were in good shape, and white tailed deer were expected to have a good fawning season.


Topsoil conditions were very short to short due to the heat, and subsoil conditions were short to adequate. Corn continued to reach maturity and the wheat harvest continued. Cotton had emerged, and peanut planting was expected to soon be completed. Supplemental feeding decreased and body condition scores improved for all livestock. Pastures managed well and not overgrazed looked excellent. Some producers continued to hold back spring calves. Beef cattle markets continued to run below average offerings on a weekly basis, with steady to slightly higher prices for all classes. Brush was in all stages of bloom, and some mesquite trees were beaning. Vegetable crops were in good condition. The first onion harvest was almost complete. Watermelons and cantaloupes were growing fast, and some were ready for harvest. Cotton finally had enough dry conditions to show its potential, but several thousand acres of cotton had to be replanted. Ranchers and deer producers were supplementing livestock and wildlife. Dove and quail were pairing up for spring mating. Irrigation on citrus started, and sorghum and sunflowers were maturing. There was an increase of head worms, rice stinkbugs and sugarcane aphids in grain sorghum. Aphids and flea hoppers were found in cotton.

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