Proposal to increase competition in meat industry could benefit valley farmers

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 7:25 PM EST
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - On Monday, President Joe Biden proposed a plan that would use one billion dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funding to help independent meat processors expand with a goal of increasing competition.

The idea is to limit the influence of the four major meat processors, Cargill, Tyson, JBS, and National Beef, that process over 80% of the country’s beef. This could provide a boost for local farmers.

“These guys are selling a trailer load of steers and they’re losing $150 dollars on them a head, and the processor is still making probably $1,500 a head. They just have too much control,” Joseph Ulmer, a farmer from Mount Crawford said. “You’ve got four big guys, four big companies that pretty much set the price and that’s what it is.”

Ulmer said small, local ranchers are often at the mercy of these large processors.

“The farmer has no control. He’s raising an animal, has his costs that are controlled by whatever the economy is, and he’s selling them to one of these four big processors and they’re setting the price. [Farmers] really have no say,” he said.

Biden’s plan would benefit independent meat processors like T&E Meats in Harrisonburg and could help farmers at a time when costs are rising.

“Feed prices are going through the roof, chemicals are going through the roof, diesel food is going through the roof, equipment’s going high, everything is going up except for their income, their beef their chicken, they’re still getting the same checks,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer owns and operates Overlook Produce and Farm Adventures in Mount Crawford. He said he had to scale back to only farming vegetables in part because cattle farming simply wasn’t profitable anymore.

While Biden’s proposal could help, Ulmer said he doesn’t think government subsidies are the long term solution to the problem.

“Subsidies can be dangerous too because you become reliant on a handout. We need more along the lines of less restrictions and red tape,” he said. “People want to buy local. The demand is there. They want local high-quality stuff. It’s just that there’s so much red tape and it’s so expensive for the small guy.”

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