LUBBOCK, Texas – The worst drought in Texas' history has caused the largest one-year decline in the leading cattle-state's cow herd, reports The Associated Press. As the number of cattle drops while demand remains strong, the decline increases the possibility of the US experiencing increased beef prices.

David Anderson, who monitors beef markets for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, said that since Jan. 1 Texas cow numbers have declined by approximately 600,000, a 12 percent drop from the approximately 5 million cows the state had at the beginning of 2011. This probably marks the largest decline in cow numbers any state has ever experienced, although Texas had a larger percentage decline from 1934 to 1935, during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, he added.

Many cows in Texas were moved where ever there was grass, but many cattle were slaughtered, Anderson said. About 200,000 more cattle were slaughtered this year in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas – up 20 percent over last year, he added.

Although the extra supply could help meet beef export demands from other countries, the loss of cattle probably means there will be fewer cattle in the future.

Consumers will end up paying more for beef because there will be less beef, Anderson said. In 2012, beef prices will increase up to 5.5 percent in 2012, in part because the number of cattle has declined, the US Department of Agriculture estimates. That follows a 9 percent increase in beef prices in the past year.

Oklahoma, which is the second-largest cattle producer in the US, also experienced about a 12 percent drop in cows, said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State Univ. agriculture economist. Beef production nationally will decrease 4 percent next year, Anderson said.

Texas’ problem is primarily due to the worst single-year drought in its history. It received only 46 percent of its normal rainfall of about 26 inches from January through November. A La Niña weather pattern, which brings drier than normal conditions to the southwestern states, caused the drought. La Niña is back, forecasters added, meaning another dry year for Texas, Oklahoma and other neighboring states.

Throughout Texas, the drought has caused an estimated $5.2 billion in losses to farmers and livestock producers, and that figure is expected to increase.

It's not clear if high beef prices will hurt US sales or limit US beef exports, Anderson said. Eating 85.5 lbs. of beef per year, the US is the world’s third-largest consumer of beef per capita. Consuming 137 lbs. per capita, Uruguay is number one.