WASHINGTON – Beef prices reached their highest level in 27 years. The average retail price for beef jumped to more than $5 per lb., almost 25c higher than prices in January and the highest since 1987. Shrinking supplies of cattle and export demand from Asia are driving price increases with little relief in sight.

Persistent drought conditions followed by severe winter weather have resulted in the smallest U.S. cattle herd in more than 60 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Jan. 31 Cattle report indicated cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million as of Jan. 1, 2014, down 2% from 89.3 million from a year ago and the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of all cattle and calves since 82.1 million head recorded in 1951.

Beef production in 2014 was forecast by the U.S.D.A. to decline for the fourth consecutive year, to 24,403 million lbs., down 5% from 2013 and down 7% from 2010.

The U.S.D.A. anticipated an increase in pork and poultry production, but the spread of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) has killed millions of piglets causing pork prices to increase. Retail prices for poultry also have increased.