(WVLT) - Usually at this time each year, thousands of East Tennessee cattle are sold and slaughtered. But this year, many of those cows are being spared... for now.
Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb explains why.
Cows from our area are actually being put on a truck to be raised and fattened in the Southwest.
It's all because of the drought and experts say it's going to cost you some money down the road.
Weekend barbecues only help beef sales, but to get the best price you better get it now.
"They've remained the same. Actually, we do have some prices that are going to be lower next week," said Charlene DeSha, Earth Fare Community Coordinator.
But, that is not expected to last over the long haul.
The drought has prompted local farmers to thin their herds before the winter.
Dr. Dick Daugherty says he usually goes into the winter with a supply of about 300 head, but he's far from that.
"75 head, which is the least cattle that I can ever remember that's been on this farm," said Daugherty.
With no economical hay to feed them, these cattle are headed not to the market, but to texas farmers.
"Cattlemen out there are replenishing their herds from a drought that forced a sell off a couple years ago," he said.
And, with fewer cattle going to market from the Southwest and now the Southeast ...
"It's sort of like killing the goose that laid the golden egg. We have less productive capacity and that will eventually reduce the supply of beef down the road," said Dr. Emmit Rawls, U.T. Agricultural Economics Professor.
Couple that with higher feed prices.
"Corn is being used for ethanol production. That's pulling away from the feed supply making feed costs very high," said Rawls.
That means the price of your steak or burger will go up later on.
"The significant increases could be out twelve months or more, but we could see some short-term increases in the first part of next year," said Rawls.
The problem only lingers as local farmers here and in the rest of the Southeast wait out the winter in the hopes rain comes and can support a hay crop this spring.
If that happens, Daugherty says they'll begin restocking their supply of cattle which can take up to 18 months.