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Grand Island • North Platte • Omaha 800-641-5046 • Ag Lending. When ag operators need capital to expand, buy livestock, machinery or equipment, they trust Equitable Bank. Our experienced Ag Lending Team will work closely with you to develop a plan to keep your operation running smoothly for many years to come. • Operating lines of credit • Equipment financing • Real estate loans • Livestock loans Dave Richardson Paul Sullivan Phil Wieck Sandy Ridge Feedyard - Fullerton, NE D EVOTED TO BEEF-QUALITY-EXCELLENCE Family Owned and Operated C C • Custom feeding • Corn & hay buying • Located within 100 miles of major packers • Feeder cattle buyer • Livestock hauling • Centrally located in corn & hay country • Financing available • Several marketing options Brett Zikmund (308) 940-0446 Dean Christensen (308) 550-0298 2967 Hwy 14 • Fullerton, NE 68638 Sandy Ridge Office - Bonnie Christensen, (308) 536-2413 • Procurement • Feeding • Marketing Custom pens ranging from 80 head to 400 head Buying Hay - Corn - Cattle • Call for daily quote Roger Williams, Manager Cedar River Feeders , LLC 3701 190th Ave • Cedar Rapids, NE 68627 Office: 308-358-0579 • Fax: 308-358-0581 WEDNESDAY, MAY 27, 2020 The Grand Island Independent beef OUTLOOK 5A Beef Month sees beef industry struggling, but adapting NEW COVID-19 REALITIES By Robert Pore May is Beef Month, but the COVID-19 pandemichasmade this year’s celebration of Nebraska’s biggest industry one that many will likely want to forget. Coming into 2020, the livestock industrywasridinghigh.Nebraska animal slaughterwas part of a re- cord year of commercial redmeat production across the country. Ac- cording to the USDA, Nebraska placed second in commercial red meat production — behind Iowa —in2019. The state produced 8.289 billion pounds, compared to 8.106 billion pounds in 2018. Last year, Nebraska packing plants processed 7.66millionhead of cattle, compared to 7.45million head in 2018. That 2019 total rep- resented 10.727 billion pounds in 2019, compared to 10.483 billion pounds in2018.Average liveweight in2019was 1,401pounds, compared to 1,408 pounds in 2018. Exports were doing well. The U.S. Meat Export Federation said exports were driven by solid growth in Japan, where U.S. beef was benefiting from reduced tar- iffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, as well as South Ko- rea, Mexico, Canada and Taiwan. Marchbeef exports totaled 115,308 metric tons, up 7% from a year ago, valued at $702.2million—up 4%and the highestmonthly value since July. First-quarter beef ex- ports climbed 9% froma year ago to 334,703 mt, valued at $2.06 bil- lion (up 8%). March was also the month when Nebraska and the rest of the countrybegan coming to grips with the spread of the coronavi- rus. But, at the same time, in Ne- braska and throughout the coun- try, packing houses were running at full speed. TheU.S. Department of Agriculture said that March was a recordmonth in the U.S. for redmeat production and beef and pork slaughter. The USDA reported that com- mercial red meat production for the United States totaled 5 billion pounds in March, up 13% from the 4.43 billion pounds produced in March 2019. But it was also in March that the number of people testing pos- itive for coronavirus began to in- crease and public health direc- tives were issued, stressing social distancing. Packing plants were deemed as an essential business and remained open. Packing plants soon became hot spots for the spread of the vi- rus. InApril, the spread of the vi- rus began to grow in communi- tieswithpackingplants, including Grand Island and Lexington. Plant officials worked closely with public officials to implement safety practices for packing plant employees. In Grand Island, the JBSbeef packing plant is the com- munity’s biggest employer, with more than 3,000 people employed there, along with hundreds of other jobs in businesses that work directly with the plant, such as the trucking industry. Asmoreandmorepeoplework- ing in packing plants tested posi- tive for the virus, pressurewas on packing plants to close temporar- ily toprotect theirworkers and the communitieswhere they live. But, as they were deemed an essential business, giving them a priority over health directives, President Trump issued commands to have the packing plants remain open through the pandemic. Coronavirus concerns created disruptions in the supply chain, from the cow/calf producer fin- ishing up calving season to the cattle feed yards that supply the packing plants that supply con- sumers anddining establishments beef. Thebackup in the supplychain caused havoc as dining establish- ments closed. The disruption in the supply chain caused by tem- porary closings of packing plants or slowdowns in production as people called in sick created tem- porary shortages ingrocery stores and increases in prices. All the while, people were con- cerned about market manipula- tion during the pandemic. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Agricul- ture Committee, led a bipartisan group of 18 of her Senate col- leagues in writing a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice re- questing that the department in- vestigate potential anticompeti- tive activities in the “highly concentrated beef packing sec- tor.” That is a reference to four packers, including JBS and Ty- son who operate large packing plants in Grand Island and Lex- ington, that control 80% of the market. “Recent pricing discrepancies between fed cattle and boxed beef are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink,” Fischer and her colleagues said. “Cattlemen across America seriously ques- tion the ability for their children to take over what are frequently multi-generational family-owned operations that serve as the en- gines for their communities and our country’s food supply.” In April, the Nebraska Cattle- men (NC) board amended itsMar- keting and Commerce Committee policy to strengthen standing lan- guage bymandating that packers purchase a minimum of 50% of their weekly slaughter in the ne- gotiatedmarket with specific day ranges for delivery. “Many NC members have re- peatedlyexpressedconcerns about the increasing number of cattle sold on a formula basis, lessen- ing the robust price discovery that cashnegotiation sales bring to the table,” said Ken Herz, Nebraska Cattlemen president. “While NC policy typically discouragesman- dates, we understand the urgent need to regain leverage, compet- itiveness and price discovery.” According to the group, cattle producers in Nebraska “histori- cally participate in cash negoti- ated sales at a higher level than other cattle feeding regions in the U.S. Current proposals in the Sen- ate aremissing definitions regard- ing key components of live cattle marketing.” While Grand Island has a di- verse economy, the beef industry is a major economic player since JBS is the town’s largest employer and there are hundreds of other jobs that rely on the packing in- dustry, especially the trucking in- dustry. Truckers not only bring the plant the 5,000 or more cattle it slaughters daily, but also ship the finished product out to the rest of the country. There are alsomany cow/calf producers and feedyards that Grand Island plays home to as a regional trade center. According to the USDA, as of Jan. 1, in a 13-county area around Grand Is- land, the cattle industry was rais- ing more than 1 million head on family farms and ranches, includ- ing 330,000 head inCuster County, one of the largest cow/calf coun- ties in the United States. Last year, Nebraska was first in thenation incattle feeding,with an inventory of 2.7 million head. The state was also No. 1 in the na- tion in red meat production and cattle slaughter. It was second in the country incattle and calf num- bers at 6.8millionhead and fourth in the number of beef cows at nearly 2 million head. While Grand Island has a diverse economy, the beef industry is a major economic player since JBS is the town’s largest employer and there are hundreds of other jobs that rely on the packing industry, especially the trucking industry. Beef Checkoff In this photo provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, cattle gather around food troughs at Smith Farms Inc. Coronavirus concerns created disruptions in the beef supply chain, from the cow/calf producer finishing up calving season to the cattle feed yards that supply the packing plants that supply consumers and dining establishments beef. ■ turn to STATE OUTLOOK , page 6A