Father’s Day and grilling go hand-in-hand.
Dad may even get some grilling-related gifts that he’ll put to use right away to prepare the Father’s Day meal.
But, like so many other aspects of society, the pandemic has been hard on the beef industry, and meat, in general.
So, I turned to my coworker, Laura Bennett, to ask her for some specifics.
Laura is the livestock agent for the University of Florida/Pasco County Extension, as well as the livestock agent for Sumter and Hernando counties.
I asked her what is going on with the beef shortages and prices, and this is what she told me: “Over the past weeks, many people have been concerned about our beef supply chain, and about all meats, including pork and chicken, for that matter,” Laura said.
She also pointed to an article in Feedstuffs Magazine, by Darrell Peel, a livestock marketing specialist for Oklahoma State University.
That article says the beef markets appear to be moving beyond the worst of the disruptions.
This is great news for consumers and producers of beef alike.
So, what was the problem in the first place?
When restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms in March, they experienced a swift and sharp reduction in business. At the same time, demand increased drastically at the grocery store because people were staying home to eat.
The shift created a bottleneck in the supply chain and disrupted the flow of product to retail markets.
Then, in early April, several beef processing plants had to close because of workers coming down with COVID-19 infections.
For four consecutive weeks, cattle processing was down nearly 35% compared to the same period last year.
Since then, beef processing has rebounded quite well, and for the week ending May 30, beef production coming out of the processing plants is down just 7.6% compared to the same week last year.
So, why were prices affected?
Let’s take a look at “boxed beef” to understand the impacts.
“Boxed beef” describes how 90% of beef is shipped to retail outlets.
Boxed beef refers to wholesale cuts of beef — such as beef rib, beef loin — packaged into vacuum pouches and then placed into a box for shipping.
Vacuum packaging is typically accomplished using a bag that has very low moisture and oxygen transmission rates.
The air is removed from the package via a vacuum chamber and the package is heat sealed.
With the elimination of oxygen, the growth of typical spoilage organisms is significantly reduced, thereby extending product shelf-life.
The shelf-life of vacuum-packaged, fresh beef is approximately 35 days to 45 days.
Early in 2020, boxed beef quality graded as “choice” was bringing $2.10 a pound.
In mid-May, the price more than doubled to $4.60 a pound.
Individual cuts of beef have had a wild ride of their own.
As you would imagine, the middle cuts — cuts from the loin that include our steaks — have been in lower demand because most go to food service/restaurants.
Let’s take a look at Choice wholesale beef tenderloin, which is filet mignon.
It was selling at $9.70 a pound early 2020, but dropped to a weekly low $5.33 a pound, in early April, when restaurant demand essentially stopped.
Once supply was shortened by processing plant closures, it hit a mid-May peak of $12.38 a pound.
You also may have noticed how hard it is to find hamburger in the grocery store.
That’s because many of us find hamburger easier to use and cook at home, thus raising demand for it once people significantly reduced eating out at restaurants.
The “chuck roll” is a wholesale cut that a good deal of hamburger comes from.
The price of chuck rolls had a pre-COVID-19 average near $2.66 a pound.
As you might expect, its price peaked in early May at $6.28 a pound, before dropping back to $4.66 a pound at the end of May.
Derrell Peel concluded his article this way: “hopefully beef product markets are settling back into a much more stable situation and with typical product price relationships re-established.”
That’s great news, as we enter grilling season.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
The website, BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com, has loads of recipes, including this one for kabobs.
Classic Beef Kabobs
- 1 pound beef Top Sirloin Boneless Steak cut 1-inch thick
- 8 ounces mushrooms
- 1 medium red, yellow, or green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Cut beef Top Sirloin Boneless steak into 1-inch pieces. Combine seasoning ingredients in large bowl. Add beef, mushrooms, bell pepper pieces and onion pieces; toss to coat.
- Alternately thread beef and vegetable pieces evenly onto eight 12-inch metal skewers, leaving small spaces between pieces.
- Place kabobs on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill kabobs, covered, 8 minutes to 10 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, 9 minutes to 11 minutes) for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning once. Season kabobs with salt, as desired.
Published June 17, 2020