In this file:


·         SC cattle farmers worry about their future, warn of beef shortage

·         LA: Local ranchers face stampede of worry as cattle prices plummet

·         TX: Calls mount for DOJ investigation into ‘price fixing’ in Texas beef industry



SC cattle farmers worry about their future, warn of beef shortage


By Rob Way, WCSC (SC) 

May 14, 2020


JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina farmers are warning of a beef shortage in the weeks to come as many of them are worrying about their own futures.


“Everybody is apprehensive and worried, because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months,” South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association President Thomas Legare said. “We may have shortages on everything, beef, pork, and chicken in the next few months.”


Legare runs a farm on Johns Island.


“It’s become an issue of not just buy local food, it’s become a food security issue in our country," he said. “We need to support our local farmers.”


Those cattle farmers are now selling their cows for significantly less than they were at this time last year, according to Craig Whisenhunt, the Orangeburg Stockyards’ owner.


“I think we’re going to survive it," Whisenhunt said. "But, I do think we’re going to have a shortage.”


At the stockyard, he acts as a middle man between the cow seller and cow buyer.


“Usually this time of year is our highest prices of the year," Whisenhunt said. "They got cows and they got real crops. They’ll sell the calves in March and April to help finance the crops, and it’s a system for them. It could be a vicious cycle if you can’t get what you’re used to getting.”


Last year at this same time, a 450-pound bull sold for upwards of $1.55/lb at the Orangeburg stockyards. But now, it only sells for upwards of $1.30/lb, a 25-cent difference that adds up quickly.


“That’s $100, and $100 on 30 heads, well that’s $3,000 that you’re not bringing in for your livelihood,” Whisenhunt said.


“The prices at the stockyard have come down due to the fact that most people buying cows to fatten them up and send them to the Midwest are not buying as heavy a cow right now," Legare said. “They’re not buying as many cows right now, because they’re not sure what’s going to happen with the processing plants whether they’re going to be shut down because of the virus, and then there will be a backlog.”


At the start of this year, there were 340,000 heads of cattle in South Carolina, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Most of them get sold to farmers in other states before being processed, Whisenhunt said.


“Most farmers sell two or three times a year, and it’s not a weekly income coming in or paycheck coming in. It’s something they depend on to pay bills and buy feed,” Legare said. “It makes it very hard when something like this happens.”


“There’s a lot of uncertainty," Whisenhunt said...





Local ranchers face stampede of worry as cattle prices plummet


By Stacey Cameron, KSLA (LA)

May 14, 2020


SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - On a sunny, warm May morning, a small herd of curious cattle crowd near a fence line, where Lee Faulk stands outside his truck on a narrow gravel road. Standing well above six feet tall, wearing a tan cowboy hat, blue jeans, and long sleeve buttoned-up shirt, Faulk gives every impression of being a lifelong rancher, who understands the cattle industry better than most folks know the layout of their own home.


“Cows are a lot like us people,” Faulk says as a few more start to move slowly towards the fence. “They don’t like being alone much and prefer a bit of company. But if one gets spooked by your camera and can’t figure out what we’re doing here, watch them all take off into the pasture.”


Beef prices are spiking at the grocery store, but cattle prices are plummeting during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Lee’s come up from his home ranch in Claiborne Parish to the Red River Research Station talk to KSLA about the emerging crisis for ranchers in Northwest Louisiana


“We have the cattle, we are prepared to feed the country,” Lee says, “The problem isn’t a beef shortage. The problem is in the processing, and the bottleneck right now.”


Throughout April and May, several meat processing facilities across the nation shut down or scaled back operations, as the plants dealt with coronavirus outbreaks among their production line workers.


The infections are causing meat packing companies to severely cut back on the amount of livestock purchased for butchering, creating the bottleneck Lee described, which in turn is keeping ranchers in Louisiana from selling their cattle.


“We’re seeing a lot of cattle backup in feedlots,” Faulk said. “In other words, they’re not getting processed on time and so that trickles down to our local ranchers.”


The lack of production means the price of cattle is dropping, so much so, that a recent report out of Oklahoma State University estimates that the industry has lost upwards of $15.6 billion dollars. That pinch is being felt especially hard in Northwest Louisiana, where cattle is by far the largest agricultural product in play.


“We have over 1,900 beef producers in our region, and we have roughly over 121,000 head of cattle,” said Faulk. “And that value is well over $100,000.”


But as Faulk explains, this part of the Red River Valley is not populated with large corporate farms, the type of agricultural operation so often maligned in the media. “We have cattle ranches that have been in the same family for well over a hundred years,” said Faulk. “Our average herd size is 50 to 60 head of grown cows.”


So, most of the ranches taking a beating during the Covid-19 pandemic are small family businesses, many of which Faulk worries could go under if the production slowdown carries into the fall.


“Over ninety percent of our farms in this area and ranches are family-owned,” Lee said. “These ranchers in Northwest Louisiana are not getting rich, they’re not in the business to get rich. This is a way of life for people.”


Ranchers in the Red River Valley play a unique role in the cattle industry, as most do not raise their herds to maturity. Instead, the majority are in the business of keeping a small number of mother cows and steer, which are used to breed calves, that are in turn sold to ranchers in places like Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas


“Louisiana is a cow-calf state,” says Marty Wooldridge, a Caddo Parish cattle rancher and Chairman of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Livestock Advisory Committee. ‘So, from conception to birth, through about a seven-month-old calf, that’s where our state fits into the cattle industry, which makes us the starting point.”


Put simply, ranchers in Northwest Louisiana birth the red meat link of the nation’s food chain. And right now, according to Wooldridge, that link of the chain is mostly disconnected from the rest of the industry.


“We are dependent on the finished product, Wooldridge said. “the retail product in the store and restaurants, that’s packaged and then going out to sell.”


“And we’ve had a breakdown in the processing,” said Wooldridge. “So, our cow-calf ranchers, they’re not being able to sell they’re calves. And the ones they’re able to sell, they’re taking a bath as we would say, they’ve got a huge loss.”


Wooldridge says since the pandemic broke out, and the beef industry came close to completely shutting down last month, the value of some local herds dropped by a third...


more, including video report [6:13 min.]



Calls mount for DOJ investigation into ‘price fixing’ in Texas beef industry


by: Jody Barr, KXAN (TX)

May 14, 2020


AUSTIN (KXAN) – When Rusty Reddin slid behind the wheel of his truck to make the 80-mile trip to the cattle auction, he knew he was going to lose before he ever left his ranch in Utopia.


“The producer in the country is getting beat up on it pretty bad,” Redden said as he stood atop the cat walk that hovers above the Gillespie Livestock Company’s cattle pens in Fredericksburg.


Redden lamented over the $1.10 per pound he received on the last load of cattle he auctioned off.


The prices are at their lowest since 2011, Wayne Geistweidt told KXAN. He owns the auction company in Fredericksburg.


Ranchers take their cattle to the auction where slaughterhouse buyers cast bids on the cattle. From there, the “fat cattle” are taken to what’s known as feed lots where they stay until its time to be slaughtered and the meat parts are processed for sale.


Geistweidt pointed to a commodities computer in his office which showed a box of processed meat, called the cutout weight, going for $475. This is the price the packing plants make on a single cow.


This is the highest he’s ever seen since taking over his family’s auction business in 1971.


“They’re [meat packaging plants] making $1,500, $2,000 a head on the cattle where the farmer/rancher is only netting $7-$800 dollars on a calf and the feed lots are only netting $1,500,” Geistweidt said. “So they’re almost doubling their money on what we are losing money on and what the consumer is paying an excess amount of money for.”


“It’s $3 per pound is what a live calf is worth,” Geistweidt said, “Right now we’re getting $1.10.”


“Right now, the cow/calf operator is losing about $300 a head and those same packing plants I’m talking about are making up to $2,200 a head,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller told KXAN. Miller sent the U.S. Department of Justice a letter last week asking for a criminal investigation into what he suspects is “price fixing” among the nation’s large meat packers.


“What we have is a consolidation of packers in this country. There is about four major packers and it looks like they’re in collusion doing price control and driving the price. The price of retail beef is at an all-time high and the price ranchers are receiving is at an all-time low,” Miller told KXAN...


more, including video report [6:09 min.]