A tough 2019 for Nebraska cattle producers has spilled over into 2020.
Last year’s record flooding brought cattle deaths for ranchers and flooded hay fields, as well as muddy feedlots and other variables that increased production costs for ranchers and feeders.
Fast forward to 2020. Cattle prices are lower, feed and other expenses are up, property taxes have mostly risen and the COVID-19 pandemic has made for unstable markets. In addition, there are concerns that there could be labor shortages at meat processing plants at some point because of the coronavirus.
Amid these concerns, the Nebraska Cattlemen sent a letter to Nebraska's congressional delegation on Thursday. In addition, some livestock producers believe there is market manipulation taking place.
"Because of the rapidly increasing spread between boxed beef prices and live cattle prices over the past week, our first priority is to demand USDA increase monitoring of price action and buyer behavior at the feedlot-packer interface and take swift action if undue price manipulation is discovered,” said Ken Herz, president of Nebraska Cattlemen in a news release.
“We are also pursuing a one-time ‘Beef Stimulus’ payment for cattlemen and women that have dealt with rapid market declines and continued extreme volatility," Herz said.
“This payment can and should be used to aid cattlemen weather the current extreme drain on whole farm/ranch equity,” the letter states.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said Friday evening that he has received the letter but not had much time to consider the depth of it because of COVID-19.
“We are in an emergency situation in trying to put together a large economic plan to help pay cash to individual workers plus to small businesess to help with payroll. That has been the primary focus now,” he said.
Fortenberry, who represents the 1st District including Norfolk, said the broader issues include making sure there is enough food and stock and that there are no problems with processing or at the retail end in light of COVID-19.
Other members of the Nebraska delegation did not immediately respond on Friday to the letter.
Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, said the concerns by Nebraska Cattlemen need to be examined.
“There is absolutely no reason why consumers should be paying high prices at the grocery store while producers face record losses” Hladik said. “At a minimum, all potential antitrust violations must be taken seriously.”
Hladik said the allegations of market manipulation and anti-competitive behavior should be thoroughly investigated.
“We need this administration to demonstrate its support for independent farmers through actions, not words,” Hladik said.
The Cattle Range, a cattle internet marketing forecaster, projected cattle losses for the week ending March 13 at $104.15 per head. That’s based in part on cattle fed for 165 days with a price of $110 per hundred weight.