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Meat prices a mixed bag ahead of holiday

NadzeyaPhoto/iStock/Getty Images smoked beef brisket sliced on cutting board
Lack of summer weather thus far has limited seasonal beef demand.

Will meat for the grill cost consumers more this Fourth of July? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says “maybe, and maybe not.”

USDA livestock analyst Shayle Shagam looked at wholesale prices a couple weeks ago, when stores were buying to stock up ahead of the holiday. What he found was a mixed picture.

“On the beef side, if we look at the price of steak-type items such as rounds or ribs, we’re looking at those prices being about 5-10% lower than a year ago,” he said.

More hamburgers are grilled over the holiday than anything else, and Shagam reported that wholesale prices for burgers are about 21% higher than the same time last year.

Wholesale pork prices were also a mixed bag. “Loins, again a traditional grilling-type item, [are] up about 4%, but ribs [are] down about 10%,” he said.

Wholesale chicken prices are higher across the board.

No matter the trends, retailers usually eat some of the higher wholesale cost to bring traffic into the stores, USDA noted.

Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel recently reported that lack of summer weather thus far has limited seasonal beef demand. After early buying in April for Memorial Day, boxed beef cutout values have weakened, averaging 3.8% lower year over year for the last six weeks, he noted.

The daily boxed beef price on June 21 was 6.2% lower than the peak price in late April. Peel said the weakness has been most pronounced in the high-value middle meats, with loin primals averaging 7.9% lower year over year for the last six weeks and rib primals averaging 5.5% lower for the same period.

Peel noted that chuck and round primals have fared somewhat better, with round primals down only 1.8% year over year and chuck primals up an average of 1.3% over the last six weeks compared to the same period last year.

“Both chuck and round values have shown more strength in the latest weekly data," he said. "Encouragingly, the ground beef market is showing a little life, with both lean trimmings and 50% trimmings currently priced a bit higher compared to last year.”

Still, Peel said the Independence Day holiday will be critical for the summer beef demand season.

“There will likely be a lot of pent-up demand for outdoor activity if the weather permits," he said. "However, the forecast for the period indicates a likelihood that large chunks of the country will continue to experience below-average temperatures. Moreover, continued flooding and swollen rivers and lakes in some regions will limit recreational activities for some time yet.”

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