WHERE’S THE BEEF? East Texas meatpacking plants, processors swamped

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK) East Texas meatpacking plants and processors are swamped with work right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple plants across the state have closed or reduced their output because of outbreaks.

The Smith family has been in the cattle business and lived on the same land in southern Rusk county for decades.

“I love to take care of the land and cattle,” Bradley Smith, owner of Brad’s Cattle Company says. “It’s something in my blood I’ve always liked.”

East Texas cattle raisers are barely breaking even, despite expensive meat prices and high demand for beef at grocery stores.

“The big man, like the packing plants are making all the damn money. We just get a little bit…enough to barely survive on.”

Bradley Smith, owner of Brad’s Cattle Company

Grocery stores across the region are limiting the amount of meat products customers can take home. Despite these measures, certain cuts of beef are unavailable.

“We’ve certainly seen a big jump in retail meat prices which really reflects the wholesale increase in prices,” Dr. David Anderson, Texas A&M professor and Extension Economist says.

The problem is not a lack of beef since there is plenty of cattle in the United States. According to the USDA, a total of 94.4 million head of cattle were reported in the country in January.

This report released January 31 shows a slight dip in the amount of cattle in the United States compared to last year.

The issue stems from the coronavirus shutting down several meat packing plants.

“That’s really created a log jam where we’ve got plenty of livestock, but we are having troubles getting them through the system,” Anderson says. “It results in lower prices for producers and higher prices for consumers.”

326 workers at a Tyson beef and pork plant in North Texas tested positive for Covid-19 with similar outbreaks in Panola and Shelby counties. This is driving more East Texans to independent local meat markets.

“Our Black Label Reserve Beef is raised in Omaha, Nebraska to our standards,” Tom Koehler, Country Meat Market supervisor says. “Which means everything from the beginning to the end has been programmed by us. The people who sell us calves have to sign professional affidavits attesting to the breeds.”

The Country Meat Market in Tyler is a family-owned butcher shop in business for over 60 years. Customers can ask for fresh specific cuts and pick-up curbside.

“I go in Wednesday or Thursday,” Matt Brinton, customer says. “I send a Facebook message with my order then come pick it up. I have through the last eight weeks been able to get what I need for our weekly meal planning.”

The business also processes animals raised by East Texas families.

“Lately, with some of the shortages, people have been wanting halves and quarters of beef,” Koehler says. “The places that kill them are overloaded and backed up for months. “

KETK News called multiple small East Texas meat processors. All were booked at least until December forcing families to continue putting resources into feeding these animals.

The Smiths say its time for more people to appreciate East Texas farmers and ranchers.

“We do all the hard work and sell them at the sale barn and get what they bring, then you go to the grocery store and see the price of meat all jacked up,” Smith says. “I saw some brisket for 200 dollars when you sell a 500 pound calf and get 500 dollar for him alive. It makes no sense.”

Texas farmers can now sign up for COVID-19 federal aid. 16 billion dollars will go as direct payments to farmers and ranchers affected by the pandemic. The Smiths have applied but say the process is a little slow since it is done by email.

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