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Meat processing plants shutting down nationwide, possible devastating impact on Arizona ranchers

Changing your meat-eating habits could mean a longer life, study suggests
Posted at 5:40 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 11:33:58-04

Concern is spreading among Arizona ranchers as meatpacking plants across the country continue to close, with workers falling ill with coronavirus.

Several meat processing facilities have closed across the country in recent weeks. Ranchers told ABC15 this has created an oversupply of livestock, which has led to a sharp decrease in cattle prices and has threatened profits.

"There are a lot of ranchers out there, ourselves included, that run on really slim margins," said Selwyn Justice, with Justice Brothers Ranch in Waddell. "A market disruption like that can put a lot of that in pretty serious danger."

Justice told ABC15 per-pound prices he's able to get at market for his cattle have declined significantly in recent months.

"Our last black Angus prior to this went for about $1.17," Justice said. "Now that same cow would sell for about 90 cents."

And consider the difference.

"On a single load that adds up to thousands and thousands of dollars," he said.

According to the Arizona Farm Bureau, there are roughly 2,500 ranches in Arizona.

"In agriculture, the fact is we're extremely resilient but we're not immortal," said Stefanie Smallhouse, the president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, and a rancher herself.

Smallhouse said the closures of meatpacking plants could impact supply at the grocery store.

"But on the ranch level, there is no supply issue with cattle in this country," she said. "We have plenty of beef, but if we can't get it from the ranch to the grocery store, that's when we have a problem."

And lower cattle prices could become a dire situation for ranchers.

"Basically, you have an opportunity to earn money one to three times a year, to pay your bills for the entire year," Smallhouse said. "For some ranchers, this could be a make or break situation in terms of not being able to sell their cattle, or taking a lower price than what it costs for them to produce those cattle."