Farmers and ranchers experience effects of processing plant closures

Meat packaging plants are closing across the country, and farmers and ranchers experience an excess of livestock. Meanwhile, consumers could see an increase in prices and a decrease in selection.

Farmers and ranchers experience effects of processing plant closures

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Grocery store shoppers may be seeing bare or nearly empty shelves where raw meat products used to be. The lack of these staples comes as major food producers warn of a break in the supply chain and as President Donald Trump signs a new order declaring that processing plants should remain open. But, caught in the middle of it all are farmers and ranchers who are finding themselves with too much livestock and few options of what to do with it.

J. Scott Herod is the owner of Cut Beef in Tyler, Texas. He calls these times “unprecedented” for the industry. Even though his company’s processing plant in East Texas remains open, he says that he knows others are not as lucky.

“Some of these ranchers that make their day to day paycheck off of the sale barns, right now there is nowhere for them to go, and prices are fluctuating- going down. It puts them in a really tough position to feed their families and figure out what they’re going to do,” Herod says.

Herod says that as an independent business, he has more flexibility in the decisions he is able to make during this time.

“We can leave our cows out in the pasture grazing," he says. However, that does come at additional costs.

“We’re using more of our space- more of our pasture land- to retain these animals, and we’re going to tack on more time to our normal process. Both of those things equate to money," says Herod. "But, from a focus of doing the humane thing for the animal and doing what’s right for our customer, we’re not going to shortcut or take away any of our processes for doing things naturally.”

Meanwhile, some consumers are worried that the closures of processing facilities could cause a meat shortage. President Donald Trump responded to those fears on Tuesday by signing an executive order for processing plants to reopen as part of the United States’ critical infrastructure.

“By President Trump issuing this order, it’s really going to help these plants get back online much faster than they would by traditional means,” says Associate Professor of Marketing at UT Tyler, Dr. Kerri Camp.

She says that the closed processing plants are the reason for the disruption in the supply chain. However, she says that consumers will not run out of protein. She does say, though, that they may see some changes at the grocery store.

“We’re actually seeing a moderate increase in prices of meat products. We’re going to see a little bit of a temporary shortage of pork and poultry in particular, so the consumer will see a little bit of decrease in selection for those particular products," she says. “We’re not going to run out of protein. It may just mean that the consumer might have to substitute their protein choices for different alternatives.”

But, she says that this is not a long term problem.

“There is no reason for consumers to panic. This is going to stabilize, and we will see prices stabilizing again and supplies and choices for consumers to stabilize, as well.”

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