Agriculture has been designated as an essential industry. Grocery has been designated as an essential industry. The “middle man” that joins those two areas has been designated as essential to keeping America running and fed. Yet, the news is littered with reports of dairy farmers dumping milk because there is no where to sell it. Now, there is news that the meat industry has been price gouging their product amid increased demand while simultaneously lowering the market price of beef cattle, hogs, and poultry.
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven joined several of his colleagues in pressing Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice to investigate suspected price manipulation and anti-competitive behavior in the cattle industry. The letter also supports a request from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and ten other state attorneys general for an investigation into the cattle market.
“Our nation’s cattle ranchers are facing real challenges,” said Hoeven. “While consumers are paying more for their meat, our livestock producers are looking at lower prices for their cattle. Given that, we continue to make the case for USDA and DOJ to investigate price manipulation and unfair practices in the beef industry and consolidation in the packing industry. At the same time, we continue working with USDA to get assistance out to our producers as soon as possible. We need to keep all options on the table to support our ranchers and ensure they are being treated fairly.”
On the national scale, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing large regional meat processing plants to close which could result in meat shortages in grocery stores across the area. As North Dakota ranchers finish their calving season and move their livestock to summer pasture, the concern of what their cattle will sell for at market increases.
“Livestock producers may not have a sustainable place to sell their animals this summer without evaluating alternative options," says Travis Hoffman, North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota Extension sheep specialist.
Livestock producers can send an animal to a local processing facility that is U.S. Department of Agriculture or state inspected and have animals slaughtered under inspection. According to North Dakota inspection regulations, state-inspected establishments slaughter livestock and may process meat products under regulated inspection. These products contain the state mark of inspection and are eligible to be wholesaled within North Dakota, while meat harvested under USDA inspection may be sold across state lines.
"One option is for consumers to buy meat or an animal directly from the producer," says Angie Johnson, NDSU Extension's agriculture and natural resources agent in Steele County. "This is an alternative to consider in connecting producers and consumers to provide meat in today's current situation."
In Cavalier County, one of the best kept secrets is the Langdon Locker which has been double timing their processing to meet the increased demand that the larger processing facility closures have created.
Langdon Locker Manager Josh Metzger explained that the small staff of the Locker has seen their hours increase dramatically.
“We deal with whole carcasses. We are not reliant on boxed meat. Sales have increased four times over just people wanting quarters, halves and whole beef,” Metzger said.
About this time last year, Langdon Locker was selling about a half of beef every few weeks. Now, Metzger says they are outputting over seven in that same time period.
“We're getting slammed,” Metzger shared.
The orders for meat are coming from a vast area, with some orders coming from as far south as Souix Falls, South Dakota and east into Minnesota. Metzger estimates that over 6,000 pounds of their very popular sausage, roughly 2,500 pounds of ground beef, and that's not including the cuts of beef like roast or steak.
“I bet you we are pumping out close to 20,000 pounds a week,” Metzger said. “We are running at 120 percent.” Metzger stated that other than a 50 cent increase on their hamburger as a result of increased overhead from more overtime to meet the demand, Langdon Locker has not increased their prices on their beef. The harder and longer hours have not seen the local meat processor view this as a money making opportunity.
“We are refusing to buy into this whole price gouging,” Metzger said.
With the increase in demand, the customers that are now getting their meat from Langdon Locker have also diversified. Metzger shared that typically as a local establishment, he usually knows everybody that comes through the door and can visit with them.
“I might get one out of 20 that I know now. A lot of people are coming from a long ways away, and I don't know hardly anyone anymore,” Metzger said
As they meet demand from customers, their supply of beef cattle is narrowing. One supplier has sold all that they can until later this summer. Another rancher stepped in and began to supply. The number of livestock producers that bring beef cattle into the Langdon Locker varies each week, but one thing that does not vary is that they are North Dakota raised.
“My beef comes from within 100 to 150 miles, and my butcher pigs are within 100 to 150 miles,” Metzger said.
As a federally regulated establishment, Langdon Locker can slaughter livestock and may process meat products under regulated inspection. Their products contain the USDA mark of inspection and are eligible to be wholesaled in all states within the United States. All of the Langdon Locker livestock is hormone-free and meets the USDA inspection requirements under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which requires that all meat sold commercially be inspected and pass to ensure that it is safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for providing this inspection.
“The only thing is our ribeye line. There is such a high demand, and you can only get one or two off a beef so we get those shipped in by box,” Metzger stated.
To meet the demand for the meat products, the seven member crew of Langdon Locker is putting in 55 to 60 hours a week. With no end in sight to the impact that COVID-19 is having on so many different business sectors, NDSU reminds everyone that resources are available to help producers and consumers during the pandemic.
“In addition to research-based information about animal science, NDSU Extension has a variety of resources for consumers related to preparing and preserving meat for safety and quality,” says Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist. “See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food,which also includes information about food entrepreneurship as people explore new ways to market their agricultural products.”
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has revised an interactive map to help consumers more easily find local foods, including beef, pork and poultry, in North Dakota. The map is available at https://www.nd.gov/ndda/NDLFMAP.
Also, a list of North Dakota meat processors can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/MeatProcessors-ND.