by Robert E. McKnight, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
By all measures, we are in historic times as the nation mounts an unprecedented response to COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. The growing national crisis created by COVID-19 and recovery efforts after the pandemic subsides will likely stretch on for quite some time.
There will be a substantial effect on our economy and way of life.
Unfortunately, cattle producers are not immune to these impacts. Economic losses are already mounting, to the tune of billions of dollars.
Our staff is working to mitigate the effect on cattle producers, but most of us probably have a more critical concern at the moment — feeding our families.
As president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, I want to personally assure you that we are committed to maintaining a robust and reliable beef supply despite any challenges that may arise, so American consumers have the beef they need.
This extends far beyond just ranchers. It includes those who supply feed and equipment, livestock auction markets, feedyards, processing plants and retailers.
Our government and public affairs staff have been in almost constant contact with state and federal officials as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed. They have received numerous assurances that we will be allowed to continue our work despite any national or statewide quarantine.
On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a memorandum with guidance on identifying critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 response. Food and agriculture are third on their list behind only healthcare workers and law enforcement.
On the same day, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing schools, bars and dine-in restaurants in Texas, and limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. Exempted from that order were food and agricultural workers. The governor confirmed that livestock auction markets, as essential businesses, could continue operating as normal without being limited to only 10 people.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has committed to keeping meat inspectors and graders on the job so meat processing facilities can operate at full capacity. The U.S. Department of Transportation also waived hours of service requirements for livestock haulers so cattle can continue moving.
This flexibility will ensure that cattle producers, and those up and down the beef supply chain, can keep the grocery store shelves full and meet the demands of American consumers.
So far, those efforts have been successful, and supermarket shelves are being restocked regularly. Our association, our leaders and our staff will remain vigilant and engaged to ensure this continues.
Maintaining the beef supply chain is our number one priority. Rest assured, America’s ranchers will continue our work to provide the safest, most affordable and highest quality food supply in the world.
Robert E. McKnight is a life-long rancher from Fort Davis, Texas. He currently serves as president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a 143-year-old association that serves cattle producers across Texas, Oklahoma and beyond.