SC cattle farmers worry about their future, warn of beef shortage

Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 8:03 PM EDT
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JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina farmers are warning of a beef shortage in the weeks to come as many of them are worrying about their own futures.

“Everybody is apprehensive and worried, because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months,” South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association President Thomas Legare said. “We may have shortages on everything, beef, pork, and chicken in the next few months.”

Legare runs a farm on Johns Island.

“It’s become an issue of not just buy local food, it’s become a food security issue in our country," he said. “We need to support our local farmers.”

Those cattle farmers are now selling their cows for significantly less than they were at this time last year, according to Craig Whisenhunt, the Orangeburg Stockyards’ owner.

“I think we’re going to survive it," Whisenhunt said. "But, I do think we’re going to have a shortage.”

At the stockyard, he acts as a middle man between the cow seller and cow buyer.

“Usually this time of year is our highest prices of the year," Whisenhunt said. "They got cows and they got real crops. They’ll sell the calves in March and April to help finance the crops, and it’s a system for them. It could be a vicious cycle if you can’t get what you’re used to getting.”

Last year at this same time, a 450-pound bull sold for upwards of $1.55/lb at the Orangeburg stockyards. But now, it only sells for upwards of $1.30/lb, a 25-cent difference that adds up quickly.

“That’s $100, and $100 on 30 heads, well that’s $3,000 that you’re not bringing in for your livelihood,” Whisenhunt said.

“The prices at the stockyard have come down due to the fact that most people buying cows to fatten them up and send them to the Midwest are not buying as heavy a cow right now," Legare said. “They’re not buying as many cows right now, because they’re not sure what’s going to happen with the processing plants whether they’re going to be shut down because of the virus, and then there will be a backlog.”

At the start of this year, there were 340,000 heads of cattle in South Carolina, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Most of them get sold to farmers in other states before being processed, Whisenhunt said.

“Most farmers sell two or three times a year, and it’s not a weekly income coming in or paycheck coming in. It’s something they depend on to pay bills and buy feed,” Legare said. “It makes it very hard when something like this happens.”

“There’s a lot of uncertainty," Whisenhunt said. "The question has been, ‘Do I sell now or do I sell later?’”

“If they have to go into the winter carrying cows, they’ll have to feed them hay and feed. That gets very expensive," Legare said. "That starts to cut big time into your profits, so it could really take any profits they foresee making this year completely away.”

Legare said it’s something consumers should take seriously.

“Don’t panic," he said. “We’re working hard to get meat out to the processing plants we use and get it out there to our customers. So, the biggest thing is don’t panic, and get out there and know your local farmers.”

For more information on Legare Farms click here.

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