Recent Storm In Midwest Could Push Up Cost Of Beef

Almost $2 billion in cattle at risk after devastating storm.

NEW YORK (AP) - A devastating winter storm that swept through the Plains and immobilized thousands of cattle may spur a rise in retail beef prices.

The latest storm that knocked out power to thousands in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma is also leaving herds of cattle trapped in snow without food or water. National Guard troops in Colorado have been quick to respond by tossing bundles of hay out of helicopters to help cattle immobilized by drifts as high as 10 feet.

Getting food to stranded cattle that will produce next year's crop of beef is crucial to protecting the region's economic livelihood, as up to $1.8 billion in cattle are on the line. But the shortage in herds may prompt price hikes that would benefit some struggling meat producers, such as Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat processor.

In November, Tyson ended its fiscal year with a third straight quarterly loss, as its chicken and beef businesses were hurt by a glut of meat on the market.

Agricultural economists have blamed the meat surplus on a range of factors, including overproduction following high market prices for animals in the past two years.

Other meat producers that may be poised to gain include Chino, Calif.-based Hormel Foods Corp. and Smithfield Foods Inc. as well as ConAgra Foods Inc., which makes processed foods including meat products.

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