Why is There a Beef Shortage in 2021?

Over the past year, consumers have noticed empty meat cases and higher beef prices at grocery stores. This has led many to wonder – why is there a beef shortage in 2021? There are several key factors contributing to dwindling beef supplies and rising costs.

Causes of the 2021 Beef Shortage

The current shortage has been driven by a perfect storm of events impacting beef production:

  • Texas droughts – Cattle ranchers in Texas, which provides 14% of U.S. beef cows, have been culling herds due to extreme drought conditions reducing pasture lands. This leads to fewer calves and cows entering the supply chain.

  • Labor shortages – COVID-19 outbreaks and worker absenteeism have slowed production at meat processing plants. Less processing capacity means less beef making it to market.

  • Supply chain issues – Ongoing transportation delays, packaging shortages and other disruptions are making it harder to get beef where it needs to go. This constrains supply.

  • Increased consumer demand – Grocery sales surged during the pandemic, outpacing already strong pre-COVID demand. This intensified competition for limited supplies of beef.

  • High feed costs – Droughts and rising corn prices have made cattle feed much more expensive for ranchers and feedlots, forcing more liquidation of herds.

Impact on Consumers

For consumers, the beef shortage has led to:

  • Higher prices – Tighter supplies allows retailers to charge more for beef, with choice cut prices up as much as 20% from 2020.

  • Less selection – With processing capacity reduced, stores have fewer beef options and often lack certain cuts.

  • Shrinking package sizes – Retailers are moving to smaller packages to ration out limited supplies to more customers.

  • Substitution – Consumers may switch to more available proteins like chicken or pork as beef gets pricier.

When Will Beef Supplies Rebound?

Industry experts don’t expect beef availability and pricing to stabilize until late 2023 or 2024. It will take that long for herd rebuilding, increased processing capacity and easing supply chain issues to improve inventories.

In the meantime, consumers can mitigate the impacts by:

  • Purchasing beef in bulk directly from local ranches
  • Choosing cheaper cuts like chuck or round
  • Substituting other proteins into meal plans
  • Reducing beef portions or frequency

While inconvenient, the current shortage is a temporary imbalance between supply and demand. With smart strategies, consumers can still enjoy delicious beef without breaking the bank.

Why There Could Be a Meat Shortage


Why is there a shortage of beef right now?

Total U.S. cattle and calf inventory dropped to its lowest level since 1951. Agricultural economists say persistent drought over the last three years, along with high input costs and inflation are putting pressure on both consumers and farmers.

Is there going to be a beef shortage in 2024?

In 2024, beef exports are expected to be about 8.3 percent lower than those of 2023 due to lower 2024 beef production from tightening cattle supplies, as well as from tougher global competition from such beef exporting countries as Australia.

Why is there a shortage of beef stock?

Agricultural economists blame it on an ongoing drought, along with high feed costs and inflation. Others report high prices are due to ranchers having fewer cattle.

Why is beef so expensive right now?

COVID-19 threw a curveball It caused a surge in the prices of key cattle feed ingredients like soy, corn, and wheat. As a result, farmers can’t afford to support as many cattle, leading to scarcity and subsequently driving up beef prices.

Leave a Comment