A drought, high feed prices, an aging farmer population and loss of farmland could lead to higher beef prices in the grocery aisle and on restaurant tables in 2012.

USDA expects additional declines in the nation's cowherd numbers. The latest losses in cattle inventory are a continuation of a 30-year trend. 

“I expect the new USDA numbers will show we have fewer beef cows now in the U.S. than we had during World War II,” says Billy Powell, executive director of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in Montgomery.

Randall Armstrong, Lauderdale County coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says about one-third of the nation’s cattle herd is in parts of Texas and Oklahoma that were hit by this year’s drought. Many ranchers there were forced to thin their herds because they were running out of feed.

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