Latest recipes

Droughts Drive High Beef Prices

Droughts Drive High Beef Prices

Where’s the beef? Midwestern farmers forecast more upheaval in cattle industry

Shopping for steaks to use at your next summer cookout? Be prepared for a shock.

Beef prices are at an all time high due to droughts and dwindling herds. Due to the water scarcity, it has become increasingly expensive for farmers to feed their cattle. This is causing many ranchers to take large quantities of their livestock to slaughter in a process known as liquidation.

One Colorado distributor says the price on their beef has gone up at least a dollar per pound in the last 3 weeks. And prices that are already at an all time high are likely to stay on the rise.

The drought plaguing the midwest’s key cattle states first began over a year ago. Unpredictable natural influences, including wildfire and now invasive weeds, have cast shadows over the great plains, making many farmers’ acreage unfit for grazing.

Farmers speculate that due to the current rate of liquidation of cattle, stock is expected to remain low, and prices high, for the next two to three years.

What does this mean for your barbecue plans? Many consumers who don’t want to shell out for steaks are already turning to pork, a cheaper grilling alternative. If pork or poultry doesn’t appeal to you, this might just be the summer to finally go vegetarian.


Food Prices Surge as Drought Exacts a High Toll on Crops

Leslie Josephs

Julie Jargon

Surging prices for food staples from coffee to meat to vegetables are driving up the cost of groceries in the U.S., pinching consumers and companies that are still grappling with a sluggish economic recovery.

Federal forecasters estimate retail food prices will rise as much as 3.5% this year, the biggest annual increase in three years, as drought in parts of the U.S. and other producing regions drives up prices for many agricultural goods. The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday reported that food prices gained 0.4% in February from the previous month, the biggest increase since September 2011, as prices rose for meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs.

Globally, food inflation has been tame, but economists are watching for any signs of tighter supplies of key commodities such as wheat and rice that could push prices higher.


Retail Food Price Inflation in 2020 Outpaced Historical Average by 75 Percent

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had wide-ranging effects on U.S. consumers in 2020, including on the prices they encountered at the grocery store. Food-at-home price inflation was above average in 2020, primarily as a result of the pandemic. Grocery store food prices increased by 3.5 percent, on average, from 2019 to 2020. For context, the 20-year historical level of retail food price inflation is 2 percent per year—meaning the 2020 increase was 75 percent above average. This level of retail food price inflation was last realized in 2011, when poor weather, low commodity harvests, high fuel prices, and international trade disruptions increased global food prices.

Prices for every major food-at-home category except fresh fruits increased in 2020. Fresh fruit prices dropped 0.8 percent from 2019 because of domestic and international shifts in supply and demand. For example, stay-at-home orders in India, China, and Taiwan created port delays and staffing issues in the produce supply chain, decreasing the capacity to import U.S. fruit—particularly apples, grapes, and cherries. In the United States, the market for fruit shifted from foodservice outlets, such as restaurants and caterers, to retailers during the pandemic, contributing to an increased supply and reduced prices at grocery stores. Consumers also purchased fewer perishable products during quarantine. “Fats and oils” was the only other food category to experience lower inflation than its historical value—likely as the result of high soybean yields and decreased demand for frying oils because of COVID-19.

Meat prices showed the largest annual increases in 2020. Beef and veal prices increased 9.6 percent, pork prices rose 6.3 percent, poultry prices were up 5.6 percent, and “other meat” prices increased 4.4 percent. Historical inflation values for these categories are 4.4 percent, 2.2 percent, 2.1 percent, and 2.2 percent, respectively. The spike in meat prices was a result of reduced supply because of COVID-19-related processing plant closures. Meat prices had not experienced this level of inflation since 2014, when drought and high feed prices combined to drive up retail prices.

Stay-at-home mandates in 2020 increased demand for several food products in retail stores, rather than at restaurants and schools. Supply chains struggled to adapt to this transition, which put upward pressure on retail prices. Commodities particularly affected by this transition include meats, dairy, eggs, and nonalcoholic beverages. Dairy prices rose 4.4 percent, eggs were up 4.3 percent, and nonalcoholic beverage prices increased 3.6 percent during the year.

The most significant food price increases of 2020 occurred in the spring, as the first wave of coronavirus cases occurred in the United States. For example, beef and veal prices increased 10.9 percent from April to May. Retail food prices started to decline for many categories in July, but the rate at which prices decreased was not as fast as the rate at which they increased. Also, several food categories did not experience continual declines in price from month to month and instead showed intermittent increases. For example, pork prices in 2020 decreased 1.4 percent from August to September but then increased 0.9 percent from September to October.

The uncertain nature of the coronavirus pandemic introduces challenges to forecasting food prices for 2021. Analysts with USDA’s Economic Research Service currently predict retail food prices will increase 1 to 2 percent in 2021.

Food Price Outlook , by Carolyn Chelius and Matthew MacLachlan, USDA, Economic Research Service, May 2021


Get the latest rural news

Record high cattle prices could become the norm for the next few years, according to a peak industry body.

Meat and Livestock Australia director Jason Strong said low herd numbers, high global demand and improved conditions domestically would keep prices elevated into the future.

"All the indications we currently have point to prices staying very strong certainly this year … and it might be for a number of years," Mr Strong said.

"Even though the herd is growing, and we are starting to rebuild, we also have this rapid global demand as well, so we aren't going to see a rapid growth in the herd."


Texas Roadhouse: The Recipe for A Successful Affordable Steakhouse

Texas Roadhouse’s employee incentive program, menu-pricing strategy, and commodity hedging allow the restaurant to draw more traffic and capture more profits than its casual dining competitors.

Introduction

Texas Roadhouse is a fast growing casual dining chain that specializes in affordable steaks. Over the past 22 years Texas Roadhouse has grown from one location to 392 owned and 81 franchised restaurants and approximately $1.6 billion in sales. Texas Roadhouse has managed this growth in a competitive landscape with considerable margin pressure from rising beef prices. While similar concepts, such as Outback Steakhouse, Logan’s Roadhouse, and LongHorn have struggled to maintain customer traffic, Texas Roadhouse has managed its impressive growth and better-than-sector margins by aligning its business model with its operating model. Specifically, Texas Roadhouse’s employee incentive program, menu-pricing strategy, and commodity hedging allow the restaurant to draw more traffic and capture more profits than its casual dining competitors. Texas Roadhouse demonstrates the success a business can have in an exceedingly competitive market by allying its operating and business models.

Business Model

Texas Roadhouse’s business model is to draw traffic and sell affordable steaks, drinks, and bar food. A 6oz USDA sirloin at Texas Roadhouse sells for $9.99 compared to $10.99 at Logan’s Roadhouse and $9.99 at Outback Steakhouse. At these prices, Texas Roadhouse margins are thin – according to ers.usda.gov, October 2015 sirloin prices average $8.8 per lb wholesale. This means a 6oz strip costs Texas Roadhouse $3.3 before transportation, employee salaries, and overhead costs. Moreover, sirloin prices continue to rise (+5-8% each year for the past 4 years). Texas Roadhouse model therefore rests on managing beef prices, driving traffic and drawing in customers for high value steak offerings, and then selling these customers on higher margin products like alcoholic beverages and bar foods.

Competing in the Age of AI online course

Just Digital Future episodes

Operating Model – Strengths of Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse is able to successfully drive same store sales growth even as competitors have struggled. Texas Roadhouse has 23 straight quarters of positive Same Store Sales.

Texas Roadhouse also realizes higher sales per square foot than its competitors.

Texas Roadhouse’s relatively better metrics can be attributed to its excellent service.

Incentive Program

Whereas Texas Roadhouse’s company owned competitors (that is, non-franchise) are serviced by hourly wage workers, Texas Roadhouse works to supplement its employee and management compensation with incentives.

When a Texas Roadhouse staffer is promoted to General Manager at one of Texas Roadhouse’s 392 owned locations, they are asked to pay a $25,000 buy-in fee which is available in the form of a loan and available for forgiveness after five years of service. In return for the fee, each new General Manager receives a base salary of $45,000 per year as well as 10% of the net income of their restaurant. All in average annual compensation for a Texas Roadhouse General Manager exceeds $100,000. This is in contrast to GMs at competitors who typically earn $65,000-85,000 per year. The benefit of this incentive is tangible. When one sits down Texas Roadhouse, the General Manager frequently comes to their table to check on refills, question food preparation, and promote specials. General Managers have a direct and measurable incentive to boost profitability and as a result they manage with ownership. This in turn drives customer service, as evidenced by the fact that 70% of Texas Roadhouse diners are repeat customers.

Each General Manager reports to a Market Partner. Texas Roadhouse Market Partners provide supervisory services for 10-15 General Managers and their respective teams. Market Partners also assist with site selection and the recruitment of new management teams. Having local Market Partners helps Texas Roadhouse with better site selection and hiring than managing these processes remotely, as is common with Texas Roadhouse’s competitors. Market Partners are required to post buy-ins of $50,000-120,000 depending on the maturity of the respective market. In return, Market Partners receive 7-9% of the net income at the restaurants under their supervision. Market Partners are required to sign multi-year employment agreements which ensures the stability of Texas Roadhouse local management which also drives service.

Hedging and Pricing

45% of cost-of-goods-sold at Texas Roadhouse compared to

33% at competitors. Given the escalation of beef prices over the past half-decade, a product of growing demand and drought, Texas Roadhouse is extremely sensitive to rising beef costs. Texas Roadhouse notably signs 24 month term beef contracts with its suppliers. This compares to Logan’s Roadhouse, which signs 6-12 month contracts with its suppliers. Although this means that Texas Roadhouse generally pays higher beef prices at the time of its contract execution than Logan’s Roadhouse, given the steady upward movement of beef costs, these longer term contracts have actually benefitted Texas Roadhouse. Additionally, Texas Roadhouse prices its menu by region, pushing slightly higher prices onto more expensive geographies. This is a practice common at Outback Steakhouse, but not shared by all of Texas Roadhouse’s competitors. Finally, unlike competitors, Texas Roadhouse maintains a barbell menu pricing strategy with below market prices on high margin offerings and higher prices on premium end items. This allows them to drive traffic with inexpensive bar food and to somewhat mitigate inflation in higher grade protein offerings.

Texas Roadhouse operates in the highly competitive casual dining steakhouse segment of the restaurant industry. Texas Roadhouse is able to use incentive programs to provide better service than its competitors which in turn drives traffic, spreading fixed costs and generating higher margins. Texas Roadhouse is also skilled in using commodity hedging and menu pricing strategies which has protected the business in an environment of rising beef prices. As a result, Texas Roadhouse has historically realized

12% EBITDA margins while Logan’s Roadhouse has 5-8% EBITDA margins and Outback Steakhouse margins are in the 8-10% range.


Droughts Drive High Beef Prices - Recipes

There's nothing like a tasty burger, grilled to perfection and served on a toasted bun with all your favorite toppings. Sam's Club® has everything you need to create the best burger experience at home, including the high-quality frozen beef patties.

Patties and Burgers

Whether you're hosting a barbecue or you'd like to start a weekly family burger night, the easiest thing to do is to keep a box of frozen hamburger patties on hand. You can get frozen beef patties in various varieties, including some that are fully cooked and simply need to be defrosted and heated. You will also find seasoned bulk hamburger patties at Sam's Club, which you can cook any way you like. Try them grilled, pan-fried or even cooked over a campfire. (Don't forget the s'mores for dessert!)

If you're hosting a party, why not offer a burger bar? Let your guests pick from a variety of toppings, vegetables and sauces. You could even give prizes to the guests who come up with most creative burger creations! In addition to the essentials like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, offer up some gourmet ingredients like caramelized onions, blue cheese, sautéed mushrooms and crispy bacon.

More Frozen Food

In addition to keeping hamburger patties in your freezer, it's easy to stock up on other frozen foods from Sam's Club. Simplify your meal prep and check out the frozen appetizer options. And, if your family loves pizza, you'll want to check out the selection of frozen pizza at Sam's Club. It's one of the most convenient dinners out there. Just add a big salad for a complete meal.


Where's the beef? Indonesia prices hit high amid sufficiency drive garlic, shallots also soar

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Haji Hidayat makes his living selling one of Indonesia's most popular dishes: a tasty meatball soup known as bakso. Earlier this week after 22 years he decided to take a break and leave the capital for his village, no longer able to afford to keep ladling the brothy goodness customers had come to expect from him.

The price of beef, the main ingredient in bakso, has hit a record high while other essential ingredients — garlic, shallots and chillies — have also recently skyrocketed.

Beef now costs more than $10 a kilogram (2.2 pounds), up from around $6 a kilogram nine months ago. Meanwhile in the past month alone, sellers at a traditional market in Jakarta report garlic has leaped three and half times to $7.20 a kilogram, while shallots increased more than fourfold to $4.60 and chilies more than tripled to $5.15.

"This is insane!" said Hidayat, who held out as long as he could after hiking the cost of a bowl of his steaming soup last month from 30 cents to $1 to offset rising beef prices. "If we subtract the seasoning, our buyers don't like our meatball soup. If we raise the price, they can't afford to buy, so I'd better close my stall until the price returns to normal."

Other desperate bakso sellers, who typically hawk their dish from rolling food carts, ignited a firestorm late last year after opting to cut corners by mixing pork into their meatballs — a forbidden food for most in the world's most populous Muslim country.

Analysts say the high cost of beef is an inevitable side-effect of Indonesia's drive to achieve self-sufficiency in the meat as well as corn, rice, sugar and soybeans by 2014, a policy sparked by the global food crisis that hurt tens of millions in developing countries in 2007 and 2008. Garlic, shallots and chillies are not among those commodities but the surge in their prices, pinned on market manipulation by importers and flooding, underline other problems in the food industry that complicate efforts to keep prices affordable.

The spiraling costs have sparked intense debate in the media and online, prompting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to demand the trade and agriculture ministries stop pointing fingers and fix the surging prices. A watchdog organization accused garlic and shallot importers of creating a cartel by holding shipments of the pungent cloves hostage on the dock while prices climbed.

Last year, Indonesia slashed import quotas for live cattle by more than a third and boxed beef by nearly two thirds as part of its self-sufficiency plan, but its domestic production has not been high enough to fill the gap. Further import reductions are planned this year. The government says imported beef now accounts for only 14.5 percent of national consumption, down from 53 percent in 2010 with imports reduced from 220,000 tons to an expected 80,000 tons this year.

The self-sufficiency policy got significant political impetus in 2011 when Australia temporarily banned exports of live cattle to Indonesia following a public outcry over a video showing animals bellowing in pain and slowly bleeding to death at an Indonesian slaughterhouse. Then in 2012, Indonesia banned U.S. beef imports following one reported case of mad cow disease. Washington has accused Indonesia of protectionism and in January filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Vice Agriculture Minister Rusman Heriawan said the government is pressing ahead with its agenda even as he acknowledged it had overestimated the ability of Indonesia's smallholder cattle farmers, many of whom have just three or four cows, to supply the market.

"Unfortunately, there are too many distortions which are not taken into account, causing meat prices to soar so high," he said.

"We need time to correct all the deficiencies that exist." People in Jakarta, who eat six times more beef than the national average, should "learn to realize self-sufficiency," he said.

In a report last year, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development called Indonesia's self-sufficiency goal "misplaced." Its archipelago geography, unreliable transport and lack of industrial farming mean it is ill equipped to engineer a significant increase in local food production. The OECD warned of rising prices that would ultimately harm the country's poor majority.

Andrzej Kwiecinski, senior agricultural policy analyst at the organization and the report's main author, said beef is possibly the least challenging of the commodities in which Indonesia hopes to achieve self-sufficiency. Rice and corn production were already close to meeting local demand while sugar and soybean production is years away from that.

Consumption of beef remains low across the country of 240 million at about 2 kilograms per person on average, with chicken and fish the main sources of protein. The beef price hikes will mostly affect people in cities and would likely lead to less public protest than sharp increases in the other targeted commodities.

But by continuing to drive prices higher, many small family farms, with herds of less than 10 cattle, may also be tempted to sell all their animals, including breeding stock, to capitalize on large profits, he said. This would work against the goal of producing more domestic cattle over time even as it pushed prices ever higher.

"This is not the way food security would be achieved," Kwiecinski said. "This is further contrasting with the objective of meeting consumers' demand and satisfying food requirements by the population."

Self-sufficiency is not simply about having enough cattle, but adequate facilities and infrastructure must also exist to distribute the herd across the world's largest archipelago nation, consisting of more than 17,000 islands, said Khudori, an agriculture and husbandry analyst from the country's Political Economic Association. Many Indonesians go by one name.

Getting beef to markets can take months as it passes from local traders to inter-island traders to retailers.

"Given the lack of supply, we need a huge volume of imports to stabilize the price," said Thomas Sembiring, chairman of Indonesia's Beef Importers Association.

"It is now the government that controls the price," he said. "But it blames importers over the fluctuation."

The situation is further worsened by rampant corruption, poor infrastructure and excessive government red tape, which all contribute to rising prices, he said.

And while garlic and shallots are not part of the self-sufficiency plan, both are potentially plagued by illegal business dealings.

The Business Competition Supervisory Commission, a government watchdog organization, said Monday that numerous importers had conspired to hold hundreds of containers of imported garlic and shallots at a port in Surabaya, East Java, until shortages drove prices sky high.

"Domestically, we're not ready to enhance productivity, resulting in a supply shortage," Commissioner Syarkawi Rauf said at a news conference. "And this is what speculators are trying to take advantage of."

The price of chilies has been affected mainly due to poor domestic crops, partially blamed on flooding.

But bakso seller Hidayat says he doesn't care what's to blame. His family depends on the $10 he earns every day serving up his famous soup, and he prays prices for all its ingredients will soon go back to normal so he can get back to work.

"It's bad enough to fall off a ladder, but then you get hit by the falling ladder too," he said, quoting an old Indonesian saying. "We are being hit twice," he said. "It's hard for us and we can't stand this situation any longer."


Droughts Drive High Beef Prices - Recipes

Scott Brown, University of Missouri livestock economist says he would have been laughed out of any room if he had mentioned $1.25 fed cattle prices a year ago.

&ldquoConsidering the supply, you have to think stronger prices are ahead,&rdquo said Mr Brown with the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. He&rsquod been looking at feedlot prices already above a dollar, April futures prices above $1.05 and fewer calves on feed.

&ldquoWe&rsquore not seeing any slowing in that shrinking of the cow herd,&rdquo Mr Brown added. &ldquoThere are going to be fewer calves.&rdquo

But in economics, demand plays a role as well in making prices.

&ldquoThe great driving force will be demand,&rdquo Mr Brown said. &ldquoThe economy has shown life and demand will return. But when? Prices are moving higher and could move up sharply if large demand recovery occurs.&rdquo

Making predictions

At a recent meeting with cattle producers at Bolivar, Montana, Mr Brown told the hazards of making price projections. &ldquoIn the past, if you knew the supply, you could come pretty close on predicting a price.

&ldquoNothing is that simple anymore with a hard-hit consumer economy that slows demand. Add great volatility in all markets and a price outlook becomes more uncertain.&rdquo

Mr Brown added, &ldquoCow-calf producers are slow to respond to new market signals.&rdquo There is a biological lag in raising calves. It takes years between the decision to produce a calf and having one ready for market.

&ldquoIt&rsquos like turning around a large towboat, instead of a speedboat,&rdquo he said.

So far, cow herd numbers continue to drop, in spite of higher short-term prices.

Just when feeder-calf prices were starting to rise, they were hit by higher feed costs and uncertainty in the feed supply.

&ldquoA lot depends on what happens in the corn market,&rdquo Mr Brown told the Polk County cattle producers.

He reminded producers, &ldquoIn spite of a drop in projected corn harvest, we will still have the third-largest corn crop on record. Both market fundamentals and speculative activity have moved corn prices higher quickly.&rdquo

The corn supply will impact the beef price outlook.

&ldquoWe have to decide how to allocate the crop,&rdquo Mr Brown said. &ldquoWithout policy change, we will continue to have volatility.&rdquo

Advice for cow-calf producers

We have a big supply of corn this year, he said. But think what could happen next year. There is competition for corn ground from other sources. &ldquoIf we plant fewer acres and then have a shortage of rainfall, it could become a pretty scary scenario.&rdquo

Mr Brown urges cow-calf producers to look beyond the short-term feed outlook.

&ldquoThe market still comes down to supply and demand,&rdquo Mr Brown said. &ldquoCow numbers are shrinking, there will be fewer calves and domestic demand will recover. Current macroeconomic outlooks do not point to a double-dip recession.&rdquo

For more optimism, Mr Brown said, add growing international demand. Both Korea and Japan reopened their trade for more high-quality beef.

&ldquoInternational consumers will battle domestic consumers for our restricted supply of meat,&rdquo Mr Brown said. &ldquoThat&rsquos very positive for prices.&rdquo


‘I’ve never seen it this bad’: Marin ranchers brace for drought

Marin County ranchers say this year’s drought and record low rainfall is the worst they can remember. And it’s only expected to worsen in the coming months.

Creeks that flowed even during the notoriously dry 1976-77 drought have dried out or never ran at all. The lush pastures that would normally be in their prime this time of year are parched and barely reach ankle height. Stock ponds and pools for cattle and other livestock that would normally last into summer are dropping to alarmingly low levels, and some ranchers are considering trucking in water.

“I’ve been in the business for 50 years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Jerry Corda, who runs the Lester Corda and Sons Dairy north of Novato near the county line with his brother Tom.

“This drought is absolutely and without a doubt the worst I have ever experienced and the worst I’ve ever heard about,” said Sam Dolcini, who runs a beef cattle ranch near the Marin-Sonoma border. “From personal experience and talking to people, the only thing close to this was the drought in the 1976-77 window and people say that at least enough rain fell that year to keep the pastures growing. That has not happened this year.”

This year’s record low rainfall is the second consecutive dry winter in Marin and California. Just 20 inches of rain fell at Lake Lagunitas this rainy season, the second-lowest amount in 143 years of records and just shy of the record low of 18 inches in 1924. Stafford Lake in Novato has only recorded about 8 inches of rain, the lowest on record since 1916.

With pasture quality so poor, Corda said he is already having to buy and use supplemental hay bales to feed his 180 cows when in a normal year they could go out to pasture twice per day. The drought is also expected to decrease the amount of supplemental feed available, which Corda says will drive prices even higher. That will come with a heavy price tag once he inevitably has to double the number of hay bales he feeds his cows.

“It’s unprecedented to see this at this time of year,” said Corda, who is also a member of the Marin County Farm Bureau board of directors.

The Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s office has asked the county’s two largest water suppliers to allow ranchers to draw reservoir water if needed. Acting Agricultural Commissioner Stefan Parnay said this drought might well end up being one of the worst in state history.

“Everybody needs to be mindful now with water and what they use,” Parnay said. “It’s a precious commodity and agriculture can’t survive without it. I agree it’s our responsibility to support our local agricultural industry so they can continue to be viable.”

The Marin Municipal Water District will vote on Tuesday on Parnay’s request to allow ranchers to draw as much as 2.3 million gallons, or about three-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth, of untreated water from the Nicasio reservoir in the coming months as needed. The amount is about one-tenth of a percent of the district’s total water supply of about 42,700 acre-feet, according to district staff. The permit would also be revocable at any time.

The district vote will come at the same meeting the district will consider imposing mandatory water restrictions on the 191,000 residents in central and southern Marin for the first time since the late 1980s.

Two dairies have asked to buy the Nicasio reservoir water so far. One is the Dolcini Jersey Dairy ranch in Nicasio Valley, whose owner, Brian Dolcini, said he is already installing water tanks and plans to start trucking in water, something he hasn’t had to do since 1977.

“In 󈨐, the first year — and it tells you how different the years are — we were able to pump out of the creek. The creek actually ran a bit and get enough into the dam,” Dolcini said, referring to the dam on his property. “This year the creeks never ran and in 1977 they never ran either. And that’s when the county implemented a plan where they contracted the water trucks and hauled it in to us.”

Dairies use an average of about 14,000 gallons of water in a single day, Parnay said. The amount fluctuates depending on the operation and the temperature.

The county already has an agreement with the North Marin Water District to draw water from Stafford Lake near Novato for ranches during droughts. But the number of ranches in West Marin makes the cost of trucking water even higher, which is why using Nicasio reservoir would be more cost-effective and easier, Parnay said.

The Marin Municipal Water District board voiced support for the idea last week.

“As far as risk-benefit, it’s a pretty good bet and for our relations with our West Marin neighbors,” board member Larry Bragman said at the board’s meeting on April 6.

The construction of the Nicasio reservoir in 1960 resulted in six dairies going out of business because they were in low-lying areas that are now inundated with water.

“It is not lost on the agricultural community that that reservoir, when it was built, took agricultural property out of production for the benefit of the urban population,” said Sam Dolcini, who is a board member of the Marin County Farm Bureau and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. “So it’s appreciated that for the first time since that dam was built in 1960 that resource will be shared back with the agriculturalists in the area.”

Drew McIntyre, general manager of the North Marin Water District, said ranchers last had to draw water in 2014, but the amount was negligible and likely would be this year considering the high cost of trucking water. That said, the district is also preparing to enact mandatory conservation for its 60,000 Novato-area customers this summer.

“I think it’s a good idea any time the local water agencies can work cooperatively to help benefit the county as a whole,” McIntyre said. “It’s a good thing so long as we make sure it’s not having a negative impact on our customers.”

Should the costs of having to truck in supplemental and water become unsustainable, Brian Dolcini said it’s likely that ranchers will look to reduce their herd size, which often results in cows and cattle being sold for slaughter.

“In this business, you just take it one day at a time,” he said. “Whatever gets thrown at you, you deal with it.”


An understanding of beef grading can help you choose the steak or roast that&rsquos appropriate for your next meal or special occasion. It is a tangible way to determine the quality and eating experience before you actually savor your steak, and choose the best steaks online. Taste tests are not used in the grading process. Instead, USDA inspectors do a visual examination of the quantity and quality of intramuscular fat, commonly known as marbling. This is performed between the twelfth and thirteenth ribs. The score determined by the inspection is then assigned to the entire carcass.

Beef sold in the U.S. is graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are eight total grades, although the lower five grades are not recommended for use on your grill. The two grades you need to know are Prime and Choice.

Prime is the highest quality conventional beef available in the U.S. According to the USDA, beef that grades at this level is &ldquoslightly abundant to abundant marbling and is generally sold in hotels and restaurants.&rdquo Age is another grading criteria and USDA Prime beef must come from cattle between 30 and 42 months of age. Historically, only about 3% of the beef sold in this country grades Prime. This percentage is growing and experts predict the numbers will slowly tick upwards to 5% to 6% due to improved cattle raising practices.

Choice is the next tier down on the USDA scale and accounts for 70% of U.S. beef production. This is generally the grade of beef you&rsquoll find at your local grocery store. The USDA describes Choice as &ldquohigh quality, but has less marbling than Prime.&rdquo The age criteria for Choice is the same as Prime, specifically between 30 and 42 months of age. There is a marbling difference of Choice beef that grades at the top of the scale compared to the carcasses that grade at the lower end. Since such a high percentage of beef grades as Choice, there is a large swing in variation from top to bottom. Whenever possible, we work to use beef from the top one third of Choice for the highest quality possible within the grade and some of the best online steaks available.

All Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef grades above Prime. How is that possible if Prime is the highest grade on the USDA scale? Special breeds of cattle like Japanese Wagyu are capable of producing marbling beyond their American counterparts. The Japanese beef industry created a rating system to capture this superior marbling using the Beef Marbling Score (BMS).Learn more about American Wagyu beef and the difference between Wagyu and Kobe beef.

THE JAPANESE BEEF MARBLING SCORE

The USDA grading scale was created to rate conventional cattle raised in the United States. On rare occasions, conventional U.S. beef might exceed USDA Prime marbling, but the system doesn&rsquot measure, or give credit, for any beef that goes beyond this scale. In order to fully capture the marbling found in Snake River Farms American Wagyu beef, we adopted the Japanese Beef Marbling Score.

Using BMS, beef marbling is measured on a scale from 1 to 12, with a 1 being Select beef and a 12 being the highest level of marbling possible.