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Demand for beef is up, but price of cattle down for local farmers

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meat processing

Lewisburg, W.Va. (WVVA) - Consumers are buying more beef than ever. The price is up 35 percent, according to Josh Peplowski at WVU Extension Service.

"That fear buying that’s taking place, so, there’s been all this in the news as far as plants shutting down, meat shortages that may take place. So, people are buying more at the grocery store. They’re depleting the product that we have in the store that normally wouldn’t go off the shelf in such a volume that it is right now,” said Peplowski.

National headlines about the meat industry are affecting West Virginia's over ten-thousand cattle farmers. The bottlenecks at processing plants out west due to Coronavirus outbreaks means local cattle farmers are unable to sell their calves to intermediaries. "We’ve got a pretty large number of animals that are unable to get to the processor. So, it doesn’t take long to really build up the numbers that are sitting there waiting to go into the process,” said Peplowski. Peplowski said as a result of the backup, the price of feeder cattle for local farmers is down 20 percent.

But one local farmer is able to capitalize on the meat buying frenzy. Tootie Jones and Everett O'Flaherty are a mother and son pair that own Swift Level farm and a butcher shop called Swift Level Fine Meats. Demand is up for the organic grass-fed beef and other organic locally-sourced meats sold at the shop. "We had two gentlemen coming from D.C., and they bought a thousand dollars worth of meat," O'Flaherty said.

The small shop has been shielded from the major backups at commercial meat processing plants because they rely on local processors, but even Jones said she has been "driving all over creation" to get her cows processed. "Every processor I know in this West Virginia-Virginia region is backed up September to December right now with no slots available to schedule anything in."

With local processors full and processors out west backed up, many local cattle farmers may not be able to cash in their herd, which Jones predicts could affect the local economy. "You think of where all these cattlemen and women spend their money into the local economy? So, what you’re seeing out west has a total impact on Greenbrier County and all over the country.”

Haley Brown

Multimedia Journalist

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