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Cattle producers, beef packaging plants adapting amid COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus in Kansas

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – With three large beef packing companies and countless cattle producers in southwest Kansas, the coronavirus is bringing a lot of uncertainty.

“It’s not only lowering prices but also hampering our ability to work towards making long-term marketing plans and decisions,” said Reeves Cattle Company Manager Keith Bryant.

From the producers to the beef packaging plants and into the stores, each group is having to work day to day through the challenges.

Senator Jerry Moran held a conference call with Finney County Officials to talk about the importance of these beef plants.

“I think Tyson has become, with the furloughs of aircraft in Wichita, Tyson may have become our largest private employer in the state of Kansas,” said Senator Jerry Moran. “We’re always worried about what is going on in the livestock industry and want to be helpful with our livestock producers as well.”

Cargill, Tyson and National Beef have all had to make adjustments like taking the temperature of employees as they come in, disinfecting their facilities, and having to social distance.

“This industry is not built for social distancing and our team members have been really great, they are bringing concerns to us, they’re helping us work out things,” said Finney County Tyson Plant Manager Anthony Lang. “We have team members who do nothing but sanitize rails and where hands go and we’ve put extra emphasis on washing hands and times to wash hands and we’ve had to figure out a way to separate, we cut our shifts in half to make modifications.”

The problem is it’s slowing down the production lines.

“It’s slowing the processing down and therefore those processors, those meat-packers, are not able to go out and buy as many cattle from the producers as they were before,” said Ag analyst John Jenkinson.

Cattle producers are taking it day by day but said a beef shortage won’t happen because there is plenty. 

“There is one thing I want to be clear on, there is no shortage of beef,” said Bryant.

“There may be a few meat cases that run empty but those will be restocked,” said Jenkinson.

While there are challenges, Bryant said they are sticking to what they know and are staying hopeful this will end soon.

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