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As COVID-19 infections inrease in the U.S., prices drop for finished cattle purchased by packers while retail prices paid by consumers rise at the super market.

As COVID-19 infections inrease in the U.S., prices drop for finished cattle purchased by packers while retail prices paid by consumers rise at the super market.

Alleged price fixing during COVID-19 pandemic, relief package for beef producers focus of message to Washington


News Staff - March 19, 2020

HURON, SD – As livestock markets continue to plummet, related businesses and trade organizations are calling on lawmakers for immediate action.

After last week (March 13th) saw a dramatic drop in cattle prices at Ft. Pierre Livestock Market, South Dakota Farmers Union President  Doug Sombke called on the state’s governor and federal congressmen to investigate the possibility of price fixing among the nation’s four meat packers.

In a letter sent to Governor Kristi Noem, U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds and U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson, Sombke wrote, “I’m asking you on behalf of all our cattle producers in South Dakota whom you represent, to get answers from the Justice Department and USDA’s GIPSA to why laws already on the books are not being enforced.”

Sombke hopes they can influence stricter enforcement of anti-trust laws to aid the hemorrhaging cattle market prices. “Finished cattle selling for $521 per head – that is a loss of about $900 per head. We thought it was bad in December when, after expenses, finishers only received $70 per head. But to lose $900, this situation is dire,” Sombke says.

Justin Tupper at St. Onge Livestock in western South Dakota  calls what’s happening in the  beef market, “unprecedented.  The packer has raised box beef prices, since last Friday, $42cwt – or almost $400 a head.  It’s unprecedented.  It brings to light that we have to make some definite regulatory changes  to our markets if we want to stay viable.”  He adds,  "Very soon, we’re going to be working on legislation to make definite changes to the way the packer buys cattle. We will need unwaivering, resounding support from the countryside to make this happen."

The industry is also currently working on a legislative relief package. “Support Senator Mike Rounds in his efforts to get some kind of relief package – along with all the airlines and all the big companies that are going to get big relief packages. We believe the cattle producer is entitled also,” says Tupper.

Earlier this month, Trump signed into law, $8 billion in coronavirus response package, the first congressional measure to address the coronavirus. It boosted funding for testing of the virus and lower costs for related medical treatments.

On Wednesday, March 19 Trump said he was invoking the Defense Production Act to direct private firms to produce the critical goods in response to national emergencies. The act allows the speeding up of the production of the critical medical supplies like masks, ventilators and diagnostic test kits.

The same evening,  President Trump signed the second coronavirus aid package into law. The legislation – reportedly over $100 billion -  provides paid sick and family leave for some U.S. workers impacted by the illness, expands unemployment assistance, includes nutrition assistance and increases resources for testing.

And now, the Trump administration is asking Congress for roughly $1 trillion in new economic relief as lawmakers begin work on the next phase.



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