Update on Meat Prices

It's been a little less than a year since I last weighed in on the change in  meat prices.  So, what's been happening?  

Below is a graph of retail prices from the  Bureau of Labor Statistics over approximately the last five years (from January 2010 to February 2015).

Beef prices (ground beef and steak) have continued their rise, while pork products (pork chops and ham) have come down a bit off their highs in the summer/fall.  Chicken prices have remained relatively steady.  

It is a little easier to focus in on changes by looking at the following graph, where I've plotted the changes in each meat's price relative to its price in January 2010 (and multiplied by 100).

Compared to five years ago, ground beef prices are 54% higher (an annual increase of over 10%) and steak prices are 43% higher (an annual increase of 8.6%).  Pork chop and ham prices are 30% and 39% higher than they were five years ago despite the recent declines.  Chicken prices today are only about 10% higher than 5 years ago (experiencing annual increases of only 1-2%).  

On at least a couple of occasions (here and here), I've discussed the driving factors behind these price changes, and none of that has really changed.  The fact that pork prices are now falling and beef isn't is likely due to the shorter life-cycle of pork relative to beef.  A sow can produce two litters per year (with about 9-12 pigs/litter) and those baby pigs are big enough for our dinner plates in about half a year.  By contrast, a cow will typically have one calf in a year, and it takes a little less than 2 years before that calf becomes our hamburger.  Both hog and beef producers want to produce more animals to take advantage of the higher prices (a move that will eventually bring down prices), but biological lags mean pork producers will be able to respond more quickly.  

So, when will beef prices begin to come down?  If biological lags are the answer, I'd say wait about a year and a half.