As food supply chains strain due to the coronavirus, ranchers feel the squeeze

Posted at 7:44 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 22:14:46-04

DENVER — Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the demand for beef has seen a spike.

The Colorado Beef Council reports the demand for beef alone increased 92% in the last week of March. But as the demand for processed meat increases, cattle ranchers say the price for cows has gone down.

"I'm extremely concerned," said Tom Walters, a cattle rancher in Wyoming. "We’ve got to get these dollars spread back through the system or the system will be broken."

The concern from ranchers like Walters is that meat packaging and distributing companies have too much purchasing power.

"We’re trying to make a living and the packers are doing a great job making a living," he explained. "They’re not sharing the profits down through the system."

Tensions between the suppliers and sellers in the beef industry surfaced well before the coronavirus outbreak. But now advocates for ranchers say the problem is exasperated.

"I sold cattle last week. Some of them were within $50 per animal of where we were last year, some of them were $200 off," explained Terry Frankhauser, the executive vice president for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

Now, a new problem is looming as COVID-19 temporarily closes major meat packaging facilities like the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley. Fewer packagers means fewer options for cattle ranchers.

"There is more of an immediate concern if we do not return those processing plants back into harvesting those animals," said Frankhauser. "If we are not able to do that in the course of two weeks or three weeks, then I think we are really going to start to see some ripple effects and increase price concerns."

But as ranchers feel the economic pain of the novel coronavirus, they say they'll fight through this challenge as well.

"Ranchers are a very resilient people," said Walters "We face adversity all the time."