You may have noticed something a little odd happening at your meat counter. Most meat prices, especially for chicken and pork, are down—but beef prices are surging. Just what’s going on here?

Part of it is the rise around the world of people buying beef. But that’s also been paired with a curious trend: In the past few years, we’ve been steadily moving towards producing the least amount of beef that we have in decades:


With demand for beef continuing to rise, why are ranchers producing less of it? You’d think the surging market for it would make them want to increase production, right? But the problem isn’t that ranchers don’t want to produce more, it’s that cattle are challenging to raise—and becoming more so.

Cattle need considerable amounts of space, food, and, perhaps most importantly, water—both to drink, and to grow all the food they eat. And, with the drought settling in for the long haul over the West, that water is getting harder and harder for U.S. ranchers to come by.

Top Image: Tischenko Irina / shutterstock Chart: USDA ERS

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