COVID-19 and the cattle industry


By Lisa Romero, Rock Springs Rocket Miner

Intermountain Farm & Ranch (ID) - Sep 11, 2020


ROCK SPRINGS, Wyoming — Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, outlined COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. cattle industry when he spoke to Wyoming ranchers during last week’s convention in Rock Springs.{/span}{/span}


When 2020 began, the outlook was a rosy one for the beef industry, Woodall told cattlemen during his presentation on Aug. 26 at the Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show at the Sweetwater Events Complex.


The beef industry was in a good place, including the aspect of rules and regulations and federal engagement, Woodall said. He referred to President Donald Trump as one of the most cattle-friendly presidents the beef industry has ever seen. Trump’s administration rolled back between two and eight regulations for every one enacted, lessening the burden on beef producers and the industry as a whole, according to Woodall.


No one was banking on COVID-19.


The journey hasn’t been an easy one, but COVID-19 “provided an opportunity to show what we’re made of as an industry and an association,” Woodall said. When the pandemic hit, every other agricultural organization in Washington, D.C., shut down its office. The NCBA, however, stayed open. Throughout the crisis, Woodall said its team worked with Congress and the administration.


“We at the NCBA made the case that COVID was going to be all about the supply chain,” Woodall said. “No one else was talking about that. We said, ‘We need to make sure the supply chain continues to function and beef continues to flow.’”


The Trump administration made sure that the NCBA’s priorities were being heard, Woodall said. NCBA officials went to those at the Department of Homeland Security and asked them to make sure both beef producers and the NCBA agency were designated as critical infrastructure in the U.S. That effort was successful.


When COVID-19 first hit, things looked pretty good for the beef industry, Woodall said. Photographs from across the country showed grocery stores where the beef cases were cleaned out. In those photos of empty meat cases, Woodall said there were full cases of Beyond Beef right next to them.


“It was a great opportunity to see what the consumer truly thinks,” he said.


Beef was selling so well at the time, that it then became a question of how to get those shelves restocked.


“We needed trucks moving fast,” Woodall said.


The NCBA was able to work with President Trump and the Department of Transportation to get an exemption for hours of service to ensure trucks could run as long as needed to restock shelves.


There was another interesting dilemma at the same time: store shelves were empty, but in restaurants that had to close down, there were coolers and freezers full of beef that wasn’t being used.


It’s no simple task to take beef from a restaurant and sell it at a grocery store, Woodall said. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, industry officials were able to arrange for the product to be repackaged and transferred into retail cases.


Things were looking up. Then, COVID-19 started to break out at the packing plants. Some shut down for a couple of days while others were closed for a couple of weeks.


“That’s when the pinch really started,” Woodall said.


It was another problem with the supply chain...