With bison meat prices at an all-time high, Wyoming and Colorado ranchers are finding themselves in a great position to take advantage.
In 2010, bison was going for about $2.38 a pound. This year, the going rate is closer to $3.90, and prices for live animals are strong as well. Store prices are also high, with a pound of ground bison meat in Cheyenne going for about $8.
Boyd Meyer is the owner of Cold Creek Buffalo company. He leases and raises the buffalo at Terry Bison Ranch south of Cheyenne, and he said demand just keeps growing.
“People want it because they are figuring out how good the product is,” he said. “We are seeing calf prices for $3 a pound, for example, and that is just way over what we had this time last year.”
Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, which represents over 1,000 producers in the U.S., agreed.
“There was a time in 1990 when ranchers knew the benefits of bison meat, but the consumer hadn’t caught on yet,” he tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/yLOyYi). “That’s starting to change.”
Carter said consumers are drawn to the meat for several reasons: It has a high protein level; it is leaner than beef; it comes from an animal native to this area for hundreds of years.
“There has been a real push to use sustainable foods and, on top of that, we don’t use any sort of growth hormones,” Carter said.
“When I first took this job, I was trying to get people to taste bison. Now I spend a lot of my time trying to get ranchers to raise them to keep up with the demand of people who have tried it and loved it.”
Carter said the prices will remain high going forward. There may be some pushback from consumers due to the higher prices, he said, but if more ranchers get involved, the rate of production will increase and bring them back down.
There is only one problem with that plan, Carter said.
“Beef prices are at an all-time high as well, so ranchers are a little less eager to get in right now,” he said.
That hesitance, along with those already in the business holding onto females to grow herds, has slowed the growth a little, Carter said.
Not counting state slaughter inspections, in 2009 the U.S Department of Agriculture inspected 53,506 buffalo. That number decreased in 2011 to 44,309. By comparison, the USDA inspects about 125,000 head of beef a day.
Still, Carter said Wyoming and Colorado are at the center of the bison business and are well-situated to grow with the industry. The close availability of processing plants as well as strong demand from restaurants in the two states and elsewhere should keep business strong, he added.
He also pointed to people like Meyer, who were willing to help newcomers get into the business.
Meyer said some of the costs for his operation, such as the roughage the animals eat, has gone up. But despite that, he said, the prices are still high enough to make a nice profit.
“I think we are going to be able to sustain these prices,” he said. “The processors have found a groove in marketplace and we may see slight set back at some point. But we are going to stay pretty close to where we are at right now.”