Ala. cattle farmers take another hit as meat packing plants crippled by COVID-19

Cattle farmers take hard financial hit

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As prices go up at the meat case, live cattle prices are lowest in decades.

“The prices are just really abysmal right now and it’s putting a tremendous amount of stress on our producers,” stated Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Vice President Erin Beasley.

Meat packing plants across the country are processing around 30 percent less beef due to a workforce crippled by COVID-19. Producers have a large supply with decreasing demand.

“Normally this time last year we were slaughtering somewhere around 650,000 head of cattle a week in the United States,” Beasley explained. “Last week we slaughtered 425,000 head of cattle.”

Alabama cattle farmers that have the space are holding cattle longer with hopes the prices rebound.

“We definitely have a lot that are constrained on what they can and can’t do,” said Beasley. “It’s going to come a point where they’re they are going to have to sell it and really, they’re going to take a beating and when they when they do.”

The backlog is really an insult to injury for cattle producers. When we spoke with Beasley in early April, there was a sizable price discrepancy between boxed beef prices and live cattle prices. At the time, farmers were losing hundreds of dollars a head as meat sales were hitting record highs.

“They’ve actually gone lower than when we talked a few weeks ago,” she said. “We have really seen a stabilization of the lows, which is a bad thing. We need to see those prices come up.”

Lawmakers and cattle farmers across the country and Alabama called on the Department of Justice and the USDA to investigate possible price fixing by meat packers. That investigation is now underway.

“We need answers to that so that we as an industry can really dig down and look at this whole situation and see if there’s any solutions,” stated Beasley.

Experts ask consumers to only purchase what they need, panic buying will only further complicate the supply chain.

“There’s going to be beef products there, it may not be exactly what you wanted when you went to the store,” she said. “If you get there two days after the truck came last it may not be there because people are still hoard buying. Just know, the truck will come again and it will have beef on it.”

The supply and demand issues that are hitting farmers hard will soon impact consumers, beef prices are expected to rise.

“It’s not a cattle shortage, there’s plenty of cattle out there. Our goal right now is to find a way to keep harvesting those cattle, the more cattle we can harvest right now, the more product we have available for our consumers," she said. "Hopefully that will help bring it down to a more realistic price for our consumers.”

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