Published in the Lincoln Journal Star on March 12, 2021
By Ty Walker, Arthur County, Nebraska rancher
I have been involved in a number of different aspects of the production side of beef agriculture for my entire life. I grew up on a family ranch in the Sandhills, was employed in sale barns and feedyards as I worked my way through college, and have worked on a variety of cattle ranches before owning and operating my own business, Broken Arrow Cattle Co.
Just like any other business, my fellow producers in the cattle industry are always looking for ways to generate sustainable profits in order to stay in business. Some have turned to direct sales, where we can get a premium for our products and answer the consumer’s demand for locally sourced food.
However, the backlog at local meat lockers is preventing many of us from being able to implement this business model.
LB 324, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, has the ability to help bring needed solutions for the producers, local small business owners and consumers of the quality beef (and pork) that we proudly produce here in Nebraska. It can be a boon to the direct sales industry, which is exactly what our livestock producers need.
From the producers’ side of the equation, we must constantly be looking for ways to stay innovative, especially smaller producers looking to carve out a niche in an industry that can be very difficult to get started in.
Local processors can be an integral part in the success of small and mid-size producers. When the typical local processing locker’s reservation time jumps from approximately a one-month waiting time to nearly two years, it's not hard to imagine the repercussions that has on a producer who has to schedule reservations for animals that have not even been born yet.
The bottleneck created is not only bad for producers but consumers. Many experienced the difficulty of providing the meat they love for their families through the big box stores and have looked for local alternatives only to find a void that is still waiting to be filled.
If this problem goes unsolved we will be missing a tremendous opportunity for other small businesses to expand. As more consumers discover the value in knowing their locally produced beef comes from a trusted source, they look to locally owned small community lockers to help feed their families. However, without the changes LB 324 offers they will not be able to keep up with the demand.
So what stands in the way? Roughly 85% of beef production in America is consolidated between four giant companies—Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef. They have consolidated their power and used it to exploit weakness, manipulate the rules and dictate the price of beef (on both the producer and consumer side) for decades. They like the status quo, but I don’t believe that is in line with what is best for most of the population.
If you want to support local business, your local main street, and the producers who work hard to bring you the quality beef your family relies on, contact your state senator and ask them to act on LB 324. It’s what’s best for Nebraska.
For cattle producers like Ty Walker, owner of Broken Arrow Cattle Co., direct sales are one way to generate sustainable profits and keep up with the increased demand for local products.
But, when outbreaks of COVID-19 forced production to pause at many regional packing plants last year, implementing that business model became more difficult, as large-scale beef and pork producers turned to local processors to fill the void. That created a debilitating bottleneck at every local meat locker in the state and left the family farms in our growing direct sales industry without a crucial partner. Before this year a typical producer scheduled locker dates 4-6 weeks in advance. Now, the wait time is 20-24 months. This means reservations must be made more than one year before the animal is even born.
On Monday, the Nebraska Legislature is set to debate Legislative Bill 324, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt.
The bill would make it easier for the consumer to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor and allow the producer and consumer more flexibility when deciding where their meat is processed. It also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers.
Senators need to hear directly from their constituents on this important issue. Please contact your senator today and ask them to support LB 324.
If you have questions about the bill, please reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With your support, we can create new markets for small livestock producers, like Ty, help local processors expand their capacity, and give consumers more options.
P.S. For more on LB 324, watch our Rural Rapport.