Blame Bad Weather for High Price Steak Dinners

If the promise of spring weather has you dreaming of tossing a steak on the barbecue grill sometime soon, expect to shell out a bit more for your beef.

Tough winter weather and rising corn prices are making that sirloin, T-bone or rib-eye a lot more expensive.

The price of choice U.S. beef -- a composite price of all the cuts in the average cow -- has shot up more than 3 percent in the last three months.

"Weather is impacting us now," said Glenn Grimes, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

A run of tough winter weather has helped thin the nation's herd in more ways than one.

Experts say a number of feeder cattle died during the record Western blizzards and torrential rains. And, the cattle that made it to the feed lots -- where cows are fed corn to fatten them up in the days before they are made into meat -- are not getting as fat before they are slaughtered.

Rising prices in the short term are the result of reduced supply, but weather-weary cows aren't the only reason you'll be paying more for prime beef.

"We've also increased the price of corn -- not quite double from what it was last year," Grimes said. "[In 2006] we averaged $2.06 per bushel for corn and this year we're going to average somewhere between $3.50 and $4 per bushel."

That rise in corn costs comes as the United States uses more of the golden ears to fill up our cars with ethanol. The more the country relies on agricultural fuel additives, the less we'll have to feed cattle.

And that means higher prices in the long term, according to Grimes.

While restaurants and hotels take a bit longer to raise prices, they're often reluctant to reprint menus, but the nation's butcher shops and grocers are already passing along the higher prices for beef.

The higher prices could make that first cut of spring grilling a bit tougher to swallow. But fear not, by the time summer sizzle rolls around, you'll likely see prices retreat a little, according to the experts.