The national economic downturn and its impact on people’s eating habits likely will continue to hold cattle prices flat next year, according to James Sartwelle, a livestock economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

And that will continue to add stress to economies in Western states.

Sartwelle spoke Friday at the opening session of the South Dakota Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Rapid City.

When gas prices rose in 2008 to nearly $4 a gallon, per-capita miles driven dropped and continued declining month after month, for the first time since the 1950s, Sartwelle told the Farm Bureau members gathered at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel.

When vehicle miles started declining, restaurant traffic -- particularly for high-end restaurants -- also shrank, he said.

“That’s deathly bad news for the beef sector,” Sartwelle said.

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