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Cattle ranchers hurt by low beef sales

Beef for sale William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

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Bill Rakde: When you walk down the butcher aisle of the supermarket these days, you might find a good deal on beef. Americans have been cutting back on steak and hamburger, and cattle ranchers get less money for their cows. From Oregon Public Broadcasting, Ethan Lindsey wrangled this story, on a ranch in central Oregon.

Ethan Lindsey: Rebecca Borrer and her husband Aaron run the Nine Peaks Ranch outside of the town of Terrebonne. They have about 400 bulls on a beautiful piece of land with stunning mountain views. These aren’t your everyday cows. The Borrers raise grass-fed, black-angus bulls that can cost close to $10,000 — for a really good one.

Rebecca Borrer: These bulls are hopefully going to go sire some of that really tasty angus beef that you hear so much about.

But the economic troubles of the ranching industry have hit them, like everybody else. The couple really began to worry about it this time last year, when they held their annual bull sale.

Aaron Borrer: Nobody knew what they should pay for bulls. We don’t know if we’re going to be in business next year. Prices were down, and I’m sure prices will be down a little bit this year.

Aaron Borrer says if cattle ranchers don’t make enough money, they can’t afford the gas and fertilizer and hay — all the things they need to stay in business.

When it’s especially desperate, ranchers even have to sell their breeding cows to the slaughterhouse for far less than they’re worth. And when all that excess beef enters the market, it pushes prices even lower. And it’s not just the beef cows — low milk prices have led thousands of dairy cows to the slaughterhouse this year, too.

Shannon Neibergs is an agricultural economist at Washington State University.

Shannon Neibergs: The livestock producers are getting hit both on the oversupply and weak consumer demand. As an example of that, I went to the local grocery store and bought a beautiful prime-rib roast for $3.60 a pound. Usually that would be $6-7 a pound.

Neibergs says the low prices will be short-lived. He says when the economy recovers, and consumers start to buy more beef, there won’t be enough breeding cows to meet that demand.

He says when people ask for advice, he half-jokingly tells them to pack their freezers with beef.

In Terrebonne, Ore., I’m Ethan Lindsey for Marketplace.

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