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Meat shortage at America's grocery stores; local cattle farmer working to fill the void

Posted at 3:09 PM, May 04, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Joe Weber knows he can’t replace the mass production of a meat processing giant like Tyson Foods, but he is working to help fill in any gaps.

“Local will be a good option to look towards, but there’s not way to replace someone like Tyson in a short time,” Weber said from his Farmer Joe’s location in Mercer County.

The meat shortage might rival the toilet paper crunch we saw at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Word spreads of a shortage, so people overreact and purchase more than they need. The good news is, local farmers across Kentucky are not dealing with the same problems you’d have at large meat processing plants.

“I think us doing it on a smaller level, we’re having less point of contact with other people,” Weber explained. Less contact, more social distancing in the plants can help prevent the spread of the virus.

In Marion County, Scott Gowers is the farm manager at Rolling Fork Farm, and his business has seen an uptick since the virus began to spread in America.

“We’ve definitely upped our production this year, and it’s reflected in our sales,” Gowers said.

A legitimate concern for meat farmers has to do with restaurants not needing, or no longer buying, the meat they’d normally require. That can lead to an excess, or having already raised animals not becoming part of the food supply.

“My hope is, that meat, if it’s not contaminated, could be frozen and stored for later to cut down on some of the waste,” Gowers said.

But as some grocers are seeing a lack of supply in their aisles, that hasn’t yet been a problem for Good Foods Co-op in Lexington.

“As soon as we saw some of our national suppliers having issues meeting demand, we called our local producer and said, ‘hey, we’re going to need a slightly bigger order from you this week,’ and they stepped up,” Good Foods Marketing Manager Lauren Gawthrop said.

Weber wasn’t surprised to get a call like that, because he’s noticed a new trend developing during this pandemic. While business at restaurants is down, the need for meat at home has increased.

“People started cooking at home more, so that made up a little for the loss of demand at restaurants,” he noted.

As Weber stated, there’s no way for a local cattle farmer to off-set everything that would be lost from a widespread halt, or shutdown of a processor the size of Tyson, but they can work to bridge the gaps as their operation isn’t nearly as susceptible to an employee outbreak of the virus.