The livestock markets have taken an utter beating through the COVID-19 headache. The board has tanked, cash cattle prices are dancing around $1.00 and now the one thing we were all hoping and praying wouldn't happen is on the forefront of everyone's minds -- packing plant closures.
It makes me nearly sick to even mutter the words because the fact remains that people need food -- and we have the product! The problem is that the only way to get the product to the retail counter in a timely fashion is through large packing plants. Last week alone, beef slaughter totaled 536,000 head -- 90,000 head less than the previous week and 102,000 head less than a year ago.
The problem isn't the packers in this situation -- packers want to keep processing cattle as there are significant margins to be made. Unfortunately, the problem is that plants can't run full shifts as some employees fear they will get the virus, so they are staying home, and some are already sick. Thankfully, the Department of Agriculture stated there is no evidence that the virus is spreading through food or its packing. Keeping consumers' trust in beef and pork products is essential.
Shutting down plants has short-term and long-term problems. It would be one thing if this was happening while fat cattle supplies were slim and the market was pulling cattle ahead of schedule to keep up with demand. But as we progress further into spring, readily available fat cattle supplies reach their highest numbers, and keeping the market current is vital. Without somewhere to go with the fat cattle, it extremely hard for the market to stay current.
This is something that we all need to monitor and keep up with in the near future.
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ShayLe Stewart can be reached at email@example.com
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