US

Rising cost of beef causes shoppers and restaurant owners to weigh options, producers to worry

FILE - In this July 25, 2012 file photo butcher Freddie Quina cuts meat at Super Cao Nguyen in Oklahoma City. The highest beef prices in decades _ fresh beef climbing to $5.28 a pound in February 2014, up from $5.04 in January _ have some consumers spending extra time in meat market aisles as they search for cuts that won’t break their budgets.  (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

FILE - In this July 25, 2012 file photo butcher Freddie Quina cuts meat at Super Cao Nguyen in Oklahoma City. The highest beef prices in decades _ fresh beef climbing to $5.28 a pound in February 2014, up from $5.04 in January _ have some consumers spending extra time in meat market aisles as they search for cuts that won’t break their budgets. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)  (The Associated Press)

The highest beef prices since 1987 are hitting the pocketbooks of home cooks and restaurant owners.

A dwindling number of cattle and growing export demand have tightened the supply and caused the average retail cost of fresh beef to climb to $5.28 a pound in February — 24 cents higher than January.

Prices likely will stay high for a couple of years as cattle producers start to rebuild their herds. Those in the in the Southwest and Midwest will need enough rain to replenish parched pastures.

Some shoppers are turning to chicken or pork, though those prices are on the rise as well.

Some independent restaurants have hiked their menu prices or switched to smaller steaks. An economics professor says chain restaurants combat the price spike by buying in bulk.