The Eat with Care blog

Writing about humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian. Your comments and feedback welcome. (All replies are screened and posted, if thoughtful and respectful.)

Why grass-fed beef costs “so much”

July 16, 2013

I thought it worthwhile to share part of an article by Virginia farmer Forrest Pritchard, titled “Why I Can’t Raise a $1 Cheeseburger.”  The article is unique because the farmer opens his books and shares actual dollar figures to show why he has to charge, on average, $5.25/lb. for his grass-fed/grass-finished beef, compared to the $3/lb., on average, that’s charged for grain-fed beef in supermarkets.  Here’s Forrest:

“To raise one grass-finished steer requires two full years. It starts with a momma cow, who has a calf. My cost (spread over land taxes, salaries, hay, etc.) to keep a momma cow is $350 annually. Keeping a bull is also $350. And it costs — you guessed it — $350 to raise the calf. That’s $1,050 dollars for year one.

“In year two, it takes an additional $350 to raise the steer. Come harvest time, it costs $50 to haul to the butcher, $300 in butchering fees, another $50 to get the meat home. It takes another $50 in refrigeration to keep the product cold. By the time I drive to farmers markets, pay for gasoline, tolls and market fees, another $50 gets tacked on. Add in modest advertising, vehicle depreciation, and salaries for helpers at farmers’ market, and the total works out to a nice, round $2,000.

“We’re not finished yet. A 1,100 pound steer yields roughly 38 percent of its body weight in product, which leaves about 420 pounds of meat. Because nearly 40 percent of this comes in the form of ground beef, the numbers are heavily skewed towards a lower-priced products. By contrast, highly-prized filet mignon only comprises one percent of the animal. In order to break even, my minimum average price must be $4.78 per pound ($2,000 divided by 420 lbs). To add a modest profit of 10 percent (my family’s paycheck), the number rises to $5.25/lb. Suffice to say, there are dozens of economic variables priced into a single pound of grass-fed ground beef.”

Does this make you more sympathetic to the price of grass-fed beef at your local farmers’ market?  More willing to pay what small-scale grass farmers charge?  Or would you prefer it if small farmers grew a little bigger to create more “economies of scale” in their production systems, thereby reducing costs a little?

Here’s another comparison between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, written by a farmer.