Demand drives price of bison meat up
Amid increased demand and shortages, buffalo meat prices are the highest they have been in decades and that is certainly good news for one area rancher.
"They are the highest it's ever been by far, by hundreds of dollars per head," said Bruce Anderson, owner of Western Buffalo Co. in Rapid City S.D.
The nationwide bison market "ended 2009 in its healthiest financial position in more than a decade," according to the National Bison Association web site
On a farm homesteaded by his grandfather near Belfield, Indian Springs Bison owner Roy Krivoruchka and his family have raised buffalo since 1992.
Since that time, the herd has grown from 16 head to about 330 head of buffalo.
"I've never seen it as high," Krivoruchka said. "We already bought calves for next year. It's up about $250 a head."
Krivoruchka said the lowest year he has experienced in buffalo ranching was six to seven years ago when calves were $50 a piece.
Things have slowly but surely gone up from there, Krivoruchka said.
Producers are seeing big demands for buffalo meat, a demand Anderson says took six to eight years to build, but it was a time frame not all were able to endure.
"As much of it as you could sell in the Black Hills of South Dakota or Medora ... you start putting it in front of a big audience and you can build a lot of demand fast," Anderson said.
"You knew that if you could put it in front of them in their market place that they would buy it at home as well," Anderson said. "Once you got it in front of the customers these meat people realized that it was a good product."
An "ebb and flow industry," the buffalo market is presently in a shortage cycle, the largest shortage Anderson says he has ever seen.
Such shortages are a big factor in increased price, Anderson said.
"They had way too many buffalo late 90s early 2000s but the marketing had not caught up with production and now production hasn't caught up with marketing," Anderson said. "When the market was down because we didn't have all the people buying buffalo, it just devastated producers they couldn't stay in business and we couldn't get the marketing up fast enough to save them all. Now we're getting them enough money but we don't have enough product for everybody."
Federal regulations prohibit the use of artificial growth hormones in bison, and industry protocols prohibit the use of antibiotics used only to increase growth rates, according to the National Bison Association web site.
Krivoruchka said his buffalo are raised using no hormones, no drugs, no antibiotics, only a de-wormer.
Anderson said Western Buffalo, where Krivoruchka's buffalo are processed, processes about 5,000 to 8,000 head per year.
Anderson said South Dakota is the biggest buffalo producing state with Nebraska and North Dakota tied for second.
Buffalo are slower to raise than beef cows and Anderson contends it makes the meat taste better.
Slower raising times equates to higher prices.
Beef cows will calf at 2 years old, however buffalo cows will calf at 3 years old.
For example, a buffalo calf born in June will not ready for slaughter until roughly Nov. 2011, Krivoruchka said.
Buffalo's stomach sizes are smaller than beef cows, thus it takes longer for them to reach a favorable weight, Krivoruchka said.
In 2009, about 54,000 bison were processed under United States Department of Agriculture inspection, with an additional 20,000 processed under state inspection, according to the National Bison Association web site.
To compare, the U.S. beef industry processes about 125,000 cattle on an average day, according to the web site.
Anderson said a shortage in product causes prices to be competitive.
"When we pay these prices for animals, hopefully it will entice more people to raise buffalo," Anderson said.
A representative from Dean's Meat Market Inc. in Dickinson, said increasing buffalo meat prices have caused sales of it to slow down.
While the health benefits of buffalo meat correlate with increased demand, the meat has a "romantic appeal in certain situations" and a "wild west" appeal, Anderson said.
"You're not going to sit there and get excited with your co-workers that you had a beef burger last night at the restaurant but you sure might want to talk to them about the buffalo burger you had somewhere," Anderson said.