Beef

Michele Schahczenski, the general manager of the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, greets a local food purchaser in Billings, Montana in June, 2020.
Sarah Brown/Yellowstone Public Radio

 


This story is part of a series on lasting ways Montana is adapting to the pandemic. It’s funded in part by the Solutions Journalism Network.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Montana’s cattle ranchers hard. Midwest meat plants shuttered because of disease outbreaks, upending the traditional supply chain and leaving ranchers with animals they might not be able to sell. The burgeoning local food systems may play more of a role going forward. 

A cow looks up on a farm near Bridger, Montana.
Kayla Desroches / Yellowstone Public Radio


While economists warn of potential meat shortages in grocery stores this month, livestock producers are struggling to find ways of getting their animals to market for a fair price. Many ranchers in Montana are seeking out more local options and hoping for reforms in the industry. Yellowstone Public Radio’s Rachel Cramer shared her reporting with Nicky Ouellet.

The beef aisle of Costco in Bozeman.
Rachel Cramer / Yellowstone Public Radio


Shoppers may have noticed higher beef prices and empty shelves at the grocery store last month. At the same time cattle producers saw a significant drop in what they were getting paid. Panic buying, allegations of price-fixing and uncertainty in the face of a global economic fallout have all been effecting the cattle industry.

A sign advertises American beef in a Japanese grocery store during a U.S. Department of Agriculture trade mission in June, 2018.
Oregon Department of Agriculture/FLICKR (CC-by-NC-ND-2.0)

The new trade deal between the U.S. and Japan went into effect Wednesday. Montana’s Farm Bureau vice president says it will give the state’s farmers and ranchers more certainty and a competitive edge in the new decade.

A raw steak, January 2012.
Taryn/FLICKR (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A new trade agreement announced Friday could mean more Montana beef makes its way to European consumers. 

Cows in a field
J. Stephen Conn / Flickr


Japan said last week that for the first time in nearly two decades, it will accept a much broader selection of beef imports from the United States. Some producers in Montana say this could re-open a lucrative market, but others say the agreement is too little too late.

Happy news for Montana ranchers Friday as the United States and Japan reached an agreement on beef exports.

The new agreement lifts age restrictions and opens the door to an estimated $200 million annual increase of U.S. beef and beef product exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cows in a field
J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Ranchers and farmers in the Mountain West ship a lot of products overseas to China. Now the Trump administration is expected to hit China with $60 billion dollars worth of annual tariffs.

Last year China opened its doors to U.S. beef for the first time in more than a decade.

Montana ranchers jumped at the opportunity. They signed a multi-million dollar deal with a large Chinese company to sell beef.

George Haynes, an economist with Montana State University, wonders what the retaliation is going to be if the Trump administration slaps these tariffs on China.

Republican Senator Steve Daines hosted Chinese ambassador Chui Tiankai at a ranch near Belgrade today.  The two were there to talk … cattle. In June, China lifted their 14 year-old ban on importing U.S. beef.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Congress this week that American farmers are facing plenty of challenges and deep uncertainty.

“Our farm economy is down by about a 50-percent drop in net income from where it was in 2013 as you all were contemplating the ’14 Farm Bill" Perdue says. "We’ve got several members who – particularly younger farmers – have levered up in this situation where their revenue is not supporting their debt structure and they’re in some dire straits.” 

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