WASHINGTON — As people continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is focused on food security and the continuation of an uninterrupted food supply chain.
“American consumers are looking for beef to fill their freezers, and we want to make sure we’re there to provide it for them,” said Ethan Lane, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“In order to achieve that goal, we need to ensure we have regulatory certainty throughout the value chain to continue operations not just from the packing plant to the retail sector, but all the way through the supply chain from the feedlots back to the cow/calf operations,” Lane said. “That includes all of the transportation inputs and other moving pieces of the equation that allows us to get the product from the gate to the plate.”
NCBA has been working with decision makers throughout the federal government.
“We’re pleased that we’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from the administration that they are continuing to ensure that the supply chain stays operational,” Lane said.
“And we are pleased to hear that USDA is taking steps to ensure that inspectors from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service will be able to continue their important work to ensure the supply chain is moving.”
The cattlemen’s group sent a letter to the White House encapsulating the needs of the beef industry during the COVID-19 situation.
“It was sent to Vice President Pence in his capacity as chairman of the COVID-19 task force,” Lane said. “We have included the concern of our Western producers to operate as they’re getting into turnout season for those working with federal lands, so there won’t be a disruption to manage these resources.”
The letter included information about the financial needs of cattlemen.
“Our request to the administration is they look for additional avenues for flexibility to reduce the burden on producers from existing loans,” Lane said, “as well as access to new forms of capital and low or no interest rates to ensure they have the operating resources necessary to sustain their operations during this disruption.”
U.S. cattle producers are concerned about the fed cattle market prices.
“We’re hearing from producers across the country that the spread between the boxed beef prices and live cattle prices doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground,” Lane said.
“We’re seeing pictures of cleaned off store shelves, so we know this is a commodity in high demand, but the prices we’re seeing of live cattle are not reflective of that.”
Adequate price discovery has been an ongoing issue for U.S. cattlemen.
“We have been engaged with packers over the past few days to talk about the disparity and ask them to make sure they’re bidding aggressively in the cash market,” Lane said.
“It is clear to us that the futures market is not providing price discovery in this current situation, and that is something we’re searching for a good solution to.”
Restricting the number of people who can gather together at 10, 25, or 50 people may have an impact on livestock auction markets.
“We’re hearing from the federal government that there will be exemptions for food security,” Lane said. “That should apply to livestock markets and the markets are taking steps to minimize human contact.”
Although the U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel, Lane said, there should not be a disruption to trade.
“We’ve spent some time checking in with our trading partners in other parts of the world and we’re not foreseeing any issues,” he said.
“We will continue to monitor this rapidly unfolding situation,” he said. “Our focus will remain in insuring agriculture and the cattle industry are taken care of and protected in any stimulus package that may move forward.”