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Despite higher beef prices, cattle ranchers don't see better sales

A group of cattle in Scotland. 

The price of beef may be up at the grocery store, but that's not leading to big profits for Rolla, Mo. rancher Ken Lenox. He sold a good number of his herd yesterday at a sale he attends yearly. “The market was down some, especially to what it was last year, but it was still good enough to say it wasn’t a bad year.”

Lenox’s cattle sold for “a little under a $1.50, so about 40 cents down” from the year before. Though the price was less, “we’re not out of the cattle business by a long shot,” he says. “You may not build a new barn or buy a new vehicle, but I’m not losing money at that.”

The disparity between the amount of his post-sale check and the price on a steak at the grocery store can explained by the futures market.

“They can lock in the corn price, they lock in the sale price of finished cattle,” Lenox says. Prices today were determined months and months ago by the drought in the midwest.

Now, Lenox's cows are headed to places like Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska — though some will stay local. And from there?

“They’re going to be steaks, hopefully” he says. “And they should be some of the very best.”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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