WHERE'S THE BEEF?
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Chronicle photo by Lisa Carroll

Even in cattle country, Brooke said, processing meat just isn't something the average person wants to attempt to tackle themselves. "It's a dying business. People don't want to grow up to be a butcher," she said. "This is a business that is essential; not just essential to the surrounding communities, but to the world."

STERLING - Limited beef availability has caused concern and frustration as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, yet one local processor said grocery stores aren't to blame for decreased selections. Teddy and Brooke Good, owners of Fifth Avenue Processing & Retail in Sterling, say buyers are experiencing the trickle down effects caused by temporary closures at corporate processing plants.

Pointing the finger toward the "four main meatpacking plants" in America, Teddy said if one falters, everyone feels it. "They've created a monopoly for years. They have all the money and they've been inflating prices for a long time," Teddy said. "Grocery stores are caught in a bad spot. No grocery store has hanging beef anymore and they can't order it. Suppliers are out."

According to Teddy, these days, grocery stores rely on boxed beef to provide certain cuts of meat to consumers. As of Monday, May 4, the price of box beef "went through the roof" which will make matters even worse, said Teddy. With beef options limited at supermarkets, Fifth Avenue Processing & Retail has been flooded with calls from local customers seeking appointments to have livestock butchered and processed. A situation Teddy can only describe as being "chaotic."

The sudden surge of customers has already pushed the regular processing schedule into December, said Brooke, and inspected beef into 2022.  With seven employees on staff to process an average of 2,500 pounds of beef a day, Brooke says they're doing their very best to keep up with local demand. "The big four packing companies, if they close even one plant, it affects the supply chain,"

Teddy explained. "They slaughter 10,000 head of cattle a day. All of us small Oklahoma processors put together can't do that in a year. "It's the break in the supply chain because of workers at big processing plants. That's what's affecting consumers." In an attempt to "keep the supply chain intact" the National Cattlemen's Beef Association announced that President Trump signed an executive order on April 28 instructing beef packing plants and workers to remain operational despite COVID-19.

SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

"While there are currently no widespread shortages of beef, we are seeing supply chain disruptions because of plant closures and reductions in the processing speed at many, if not most, beef processing plants in the United States ...," stated NCBA CEO Colin Woodall in a recent press release. "American consumers rely on a safe, steady supply of food ..."

The Good's suspect it's that "fear of having an empty freezer" that has spurred the increase in business. "It's a good thing we love to be busy," said Brooke. "I thank God we're open and busy, but for our customers who depend on us, this creates a whole new set of problems." While most have been kind and understanding about the current predicament, other customers have expressed frustration with the delayed bookings. For farmers and ranchers who have to continue to feed cattle months longer than necessary, all the delays equal money lost.

Even in cattle country, Brooke said, processing meat just isn't something the average person wants to attempt to tackle themselves. "It's a dying business. People don't want to grow up to be a butcher," she said. "This is a business that is essential; not just essential to the surrounding communities, but to the world." As government officials, producers, processors and consumers navigate these uncertain times, Teddy and Brooke say they'll continue to do their very best to serve the community's processing needs.

"Bear with us while we find the new normal and make adjustments to continue to serve our loyal customers as well as new customers," said Teddy. "It's an exciting time in the business for us, although it's hectic and crazy. "We're not going any- where and we're going to continue to be here providing the same services we've always provided."