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Senator Tom Brewer
When the virus hit, we had a cattle market. For better or worse, this market has worked in Nebraska since before we were a state. The large industrial meat packers turned out to be the critical point of failure in this market. When a large number of their employees turned up sick with the virus, the plants closed or severely reduced production. When that happened, ranchers no longer had a market to sell their crop. I do not think it can be overstated the amount of stress and despair this caused thousands of family farms and ranches around the state. Nothing like this has ever happened in living memory. Helping the number one industry in Nebraska simply must be our top priority.
Ranchers in the Sandhills are very strong and resilient people. They are also very industrious entrepreneurs. When the traditional cattle market failed, they created a new one selling animals directly to the public. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s never been tried on this scale before. Unfortunately, they now face another bottleneck. The critical point of failure in this new market is the small town meat locker. These lockers quickly became overwhelmed and most people now cannot make an appointment to slaughter and process an animal until next spring. The uptick in demand is a good thing for these small businesses, but the ranchers still need a viable market to sell their crop and make a modest profit. The traditional cattle market will eventually come back, but it is still struggling to recover and will be for some time to come.
I want to help expand the capacity of small town meat lockers in Nebraska. Selling the most valuable thing we make in Nebraska should be safe and easy to do. There are a lot of different aspects to this problem. It is a small town economic development problem. There are workforce housing issues, and problems with expanding city services and infrastructure in small towns. It is a skilled labor problem. To my knowledge, we don’t even have a school that teaches the ancient art of butchering an animal here in the Beef State. This trade must be learned on the job at the employer’s expense. It’s a public policy problem. The federal laws concerning meat inspection have not been substantially updated since the 1960s. Our state law has been silent on this issue since the early 1970s when Nebraska did away with its state meat inspection program. It’s time to update the law.
Other rural states are currently taking action to address these problems, and help grow and protect this new direct-to-consumer beef market. There are a lot of ways we can make the retail sale of beef direct to the public much easier for a small town locker than it is now. Not only can it be easier, it can be safer and more profitable for the rancher and the locker. That is good for Nebraska.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions, or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1101, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at (402) 471-2628.