DENVER (KDVR) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting a low inventory of cattle for 2023, which could mean consumers may have to pay even more for beef.

As of January, the USDA recorded 89.3 million cattle and calves on U.S. farms, a 3% decrease from 2022. With 28.9 million beef cows, they said this is also the smallest herd recorded in 61 years.

Curt Werner, a three-year generation Colorado rancher, has seen the cattle industry change over the years.

“It’s a very capital-labor industry, also very labor intensive industry, but also very low return on asset industry,” Werner said.

With one of the smallest beef cow herds ever recorded, Werner said it has to do with the drought and lack of profitability driving people out of the business.

“We’re not getting enough for our calves. On the other hand, the consumer can’t afford the beef, so who’s making the money? Someone’s making a tremendous amount of money and it’s the middle-man. The four packers,” Werner said.

Werner is referring to the big four beef processing companies: Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Marfrig. He said these companies control about 85% of the feedlot cattle in the United States.

Consumers are feeling the impact.

“Everything’s gone up. It’s been a pretty constant theme,” Ben, a local shopper, said.

Some told FOX31 they’re already making cuts to save.

“I’ve cut back on frivolous things. Once prices go up, they don’t come down,” Barbara, a local shopper, said.

With the demand for beef not slowing down, prices may only go up.

“It’s probably going to get more expensive,” Werner said. “The concern now is how with inflation in all areas being as high as it is where people quit eating beef on a large scale.”