After gathering and processing our Wagyu X calves with a second round of vaccinations, we shipped our first load off to Snake River Farms in Melba, Idaho yesterday. Though grateful we have work to do apart from the growing death toll of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to mentally adjust to this down market as a result of all the Covid-19 related problems in the beef distribution pipeline. Even with the generous premium offered by SRF, payment for the calves is well short of what they brought in 2018.
For the most part, Covid-19 has not changed our activities very much. With another load of Wagyu X calves to ship plus gathering, weaning and hauling our Angus calves to the auction yard yet ahead of us, we have plenty on our plate to keep our minds and bodies occupied as we face tough times in the market. Selling our calves is normally a joyous time, but it’s been hard to get excited this year.
Since mid-March, the impact of Covid-19 on everyone has evolved. We go to town less often, carry what’s left of our hand sanitizer since Elko, practice social distancing with outsiders and adjust to the shortages of basic consumer goods, the reality of which hangs like a dark cloud over everyone’s mental state in these uncertain times. Under these circumstances, it’s been difficult for me, and I suspect others, to maintain a healthy attitude.
Normally a daily exercise, I haven’t completed a poem for three weeks, even though I’ve started plenty. The words seem hackneyed, far from insightful or uplifting. But Robbin brings her guitar out to the deck in the evening and we sing covers of songs we like into the canyon as we try to capture the feelings of Merle Haggard, Gillian Welch, John Prine or Guy Clark to lift our spirits. For us, it’s time to sing.
All that was missing was a single-action Colt .45 revolver when I visited Rite Aid early this morning, my hands slathered in hand sanitizer entering and exiting the drug store. With few customers and all employees wearing facemasks behind Plexiglas shields, and me with my bandana—my hearing aids picked up some distant chuckles, but I felt safe enough.
In our culture of comfort and convenience, Covid-19 is teaching us all how things really work. I caught snippets of USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s address to the nation yesterday. No preppie politician, Perdue’s Southern drawl appeared to have a rural, hands-on appeal when he says that there is plenty of food for all and that bare-shelved grocery stores are a result of a demand problem, not a supply problem, as dairymen dump milk and farmers plow their crops. $15.5 billion has been earmarked to purchase ‘milk and other protein products’ to help bolster the Ag markets. An obvious question is whether or not the USDA will take possession of these commodities. Beef and pork producers, and the USDA, have nowhere to go with the livestock as feedlots are backed-up because packing plants for both have been shuttered due to the Coronavirus.
The cattle market has been in a tailspin since the Trump Administration’s trade wars with China and other countries. Now touting billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out American farmers, $62 million has already gone to Brazil’s JBS SA, the largest meatpacker in the world whose owners, the Batista brothers, have spent time in jail for corruption and are currently under Justice Department probes. JBS SA Just how this will shake out is anyone’s guess.
We’ve been busy gathering our Wagyu calves for a second round of vaccinations as required by our contract with Snake River Farms. Normally, this is the time of year that we lock-in a price for the calves we are contracted to sell to Snake River, to be weighed and shipped at least two weeks after their vaccinations. Our calves will be lighter than last year after virtually no rain in January and February. Normally, our feed year ends around the 15th of May, leaving us 30 days to agree on a price. We’re watching the market with nowhere else to go, but nothing is normal, the deck has been shuffled.