Going to market
Global and U.S. food supply chains have been upset by the coronavirus, causing ripple effects felt by Bosque County milk and beef producers.
“Right now with the coronavirus, nobody knows what the hell to do,” said Mike Domel, rancher specializing in Angus beef and owner of the Meridian Livestock Market.
“We are selling off cattle right now for the same prices we did 15, 20 years ago, some 30 years ago.”
Amongst problems the coronavirus has caused: more than 200,00 deaths and an economic destruction that could surpass the last great depression; possible food shortages have been added to the list.
While some grocery store shelves sit empty in eastern US’ urban communities, dairy producers were said to have dumped 400 loads of milk a little more than a week ago, the largest reported dump in history of more than 2,400 gallons of milk.
“We’re going to be taking a hit. I know I’m probably going to be reaching into my savings every month,” said David Jackson, owner of the last dairy farm in Bosque County.
“We’ve been told to reduce milk production by 10 percent. It’s not such an easy thing to do, the milk is already there in the cow. We either have to dry up their feed or put them to market, and the beef market isn’t great right now.”
While the demand for meat protein has drastically swung over the past few weeks, cattle sit in fields and feed lots because of shutdowns at major processing plants due to COVID-19.
The flooding of meat onto markets and unavailability of processors has driven the market into an unknown chaos as hamburger meat varies two dollars a pound from county to county.
“All of the inputs, feed, fertilizer for grass, and such, for cattle went straight up and the price went straight down. So people are now selling off their cattle,” Domel said.
“There are only a handful of major meat processors in the country. When you shut one down, it drives the prices down.”
Like the last great depression, these disruptions in the global food supply chains threaten to put countless farmers and ranchers out of work, again.
“Today in the word of staples, so wheat, maze, corn, soybeans, we have high production. The only problems we’ve had are logistical problems,” United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Chief Economist Maximo Torero said a couple of weeks ago.
Logistical problems in global and national transportation and processing of food stuffs has been upset by travel bans, processors, packers and plant closures and even some countries starting to horde and panic buy food..
Maximo said most of these problems have been solved and trade needs to continue to flow.
“There is no need to restrict trade because there is sufficient food. Sectors most heavily impacted today are fish, fruits and meats,” Maximo said.
“That’s why we have to find ways to restore those products. The biggest problem we will have is less demand for these commodities in the future.”
But in every economic situation, there are winners and losers; Or perhaps in this case, some losing less than others due to their adaptability and small size.
Craig and Rhianna Miller are owners of Mill-King Market and Creamer, a small dairy in McLennon County outside of Crawford, and say they haven’t been hit as hard as some of the larger producers.
“The big companies and big producers aren’t adapting fast enough for these huge market swings we’re having, It’s not that we don’t have enough food, it’s the supply chain that we’ve had for years is breaking down,” Craig Miller said.
“The distributers can’t keep up and I’m now having to take over the supplies portion of the business. I started doing home deliveries, which hasn’t been seen since the 60s or 70s.”
Mill King has seen an increase in sales with home deliveries and in their local shop. The Millers even purchased an industrial butter-churn for local production in hopes to use some of the excess milk out there.
As small diaries are adapting to changing times to make a profit, so are grass-fed cattle producers.
“We sell to the end user. So, this has been a little more on the positive side for us. With big processors shutting down, there has been an increase in demand here,” said J.B. Cameron of Cameron Farms outside of Iredell.
“There has been an increase in food-source awareness. People, more and more, are wanting to know where their beef is coming from.”
With low maintenance and low cost for production of Corriente cattle, Cameron said he has also seen an increase in profits with the increased demand for his beef.
Farmers, large and small, say they will continue to adapt to the changing times of the coronavirus in order to stay in business.
“We did have good prices, but it just tanked recently,” said Virginia Anderson, who has worked cattle in Bosque County almost her entire life.
“There are a few places around Cranfills Gap that have sold off everything under 500 pounds because the future didn’t look good on the cattle market. I’ve done that for a few people, now, and plan to sell more.”
In this three-part series, Bosque County Publishing will be spotlighting the local agricultural industries in the area and the disruption in the food chain supplies. Look to future issues for information on how dairy and cattle markets are being affected, why and how farms are adapting to the changes.