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COVID-19's impact on the Texas meat industry

"We’ve essentially had to mold our entire business model that’s worked for 10 years – we changed in about a week."

AUSTIN, Texas — In Texas, we're known for barbecue, which of course involves one main ingredient: meat. 

"In terms of livestock production, the number of cattle and calves in Texas, we are the largest producer of cattle and calves," said Russell Woodward, the senior manager of Channel Marketing with the Texas Beef Council.

But as state orders have shut down restaurant dining rooms, the coronavirus is proving to have some sort of impact on the meat industry in Texas. 

"The current impact that we have seeing is just that the supply side, meaning that suppliers have had to pivot and be able to send enough trucks and get those that supply to the grocery stores to maintain that grocery store case," said Woodward. "The uncertainty in futures markets and uncertainty and the volatility of those markets have probably lost on paper a third of the value of their livestock here just in the last month."

At the Ranger Cattle ranch in eastern Travis County, owner Josh Uaeilers said it's not known yet what the impact is for his ranch in particular. 

"It’s really hard to tell where we’re at right now because every day is so different. We might have 30 customers at the ranch one day, and then we might have 10 the next day," said Uaeliers. “I think at the end of the day what we’ve had to do is transition from supplying restaurants to individual consumers.”

Uaeliers said the ranch typically provides meat for multiple restaurants, but has only made one restaurant delivery in the past month and a half. 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Livestock at Ranger Cattle ranch.

"We’ve essentially had to mold our entire business model that’s worked for 10 years – we changed in about a week," said Uaeliers, who also added he doesn't believe there is any shortage of meat currently. 

"There is no supply issue. We have the animals – we were ready for South By [Southwest]; we were ready for a very busy spring. It’s just we lost all of our customers," said Uaeliers. “We have plenty of beef – we just have to get it into the hands of the consumers.”

But those customers have recently become individual people rather than restaurants. 

“Everything from, you know, a 30-year-old mom with three kids just trying to feed her family to a doomsday prepper wanting to buy hundreds of pounds of ground beef because we don’t know where this thing's headed," said Uaeliers. “Even if you can’t get out here to buy beef directly from us please do go to those restaurants. They do support us and that are still having a takeout option – please take advantage of that.”

Credit: Luis de Leon
Livestock at Ranger Cattle's ranch.

"We see some interesting price disparities that have developed over the last two weeks in those wholesale price items. And we'll probably see that dissipate as we move forward and get, you know, again not having a crystal ball and not knowing exactly where things will shake out here. But we hope as we start recovery, things will start to look a little bit more normal," said Woodward.

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