Kansas, Missouri farmers feeling effects of virus outbreaks at meat processing plants

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TONGANOXIE, Kan. — Outbreaks of COVID-19 are forcing several major meat processing plants to cut back production or shut down.

That’s now having a major trickle-down effect, hitting the pocketbooks of farmers and everyday consumers.

Cattle are roaming the open prairie and eating thick green grass at M & J Ranch just outside Tonganoxie.

“We enjoy what we do, and we thank God we live where we do,” said Joyce Williams of M & J Ranch.

While these ranchers don’t leave the countryside much, they’re feeling the impact of the global health pandemic.

“This has been just crazy here lately because people want it, and we don’t have it,” said Melvin Williams of M & J Ranch.

M & J is a small farm, which partners with small processors. They lucked out last week, getting worked in, and now have a little beef to sell.

But it won’t last long, and many of their calves and cows could be grazing much longer than they ideally should.

“If they get it over-finished, it’s not good either. There’s a certain weight on hogs, beef, chicken,” Joyce Williams said. “They need to be processed then and not wait. We’ve actually processed some a little younger just because of the demand for meat.”

The problem is compounded further for larger cattle operations who rely on major meat packing plants for a paycheck. With those plants closed, and smaller, local lockers overrun with inventory, there’s nowhere to sell their product.

“It’s really exposed us for having the major corporations processing 80% of our beef,” said Shane Schneider, who has as family farmer near Salina, Kansas.

“It’s basically bottle necked. We’ve got an abundant amount of live cattle ready to be harvested. We just can’t get them to the processor.”

Farmers all across Missouri and Kansas fear if those plants don’t open at full capacity soon, herds will have a much harder time finding their way to your table.

For now, ranchers are left not making money and spending more to keep feeding cows they can’t sell. As plants reopen, the glut of cattle hitting the market will likely provide a second gut-punch.

“They will buy it cheap, then jack up the price when they go to sell it,” Melvin Williams said.

It’s a pricey backlog for farmers and, ultimately, consumers.

Farmers expect this will not be a short-lived problem. Grocers may continue limiting how much you can buy until processors can reopen and catch up, which could take months.

Some are hoping the passage of federal legislation like the PRIME Act and new labeling guidelines could help.

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