New Mexico cattle ranchers facing hurdles as they try to provide food during pandemic

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- New Mexico’s cattle ranchers say they’ve been hit hard by the slowing economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m a fifth generation rancher. My family has been in the cattle business their whole lives,” said Randell Major, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA).

Major has a ranch in Magdalena, and it’s his job to make sure beef makes it to people’s dinner tables.

Here’s how it works: the cattle goes from his ranch, to a feed lot, to a processing plant. He uses one of the four major packers in Kansas. That’s where Major gets paid.

But COVID-19 has created a hiccup in that process.

“At this point in time, everything is kind of backed up,” said Major. “It’s slowed down. The feed yards are full of cattle that are ready for slaughter and there’s no place to go with them right now.”

He said New Mexico has 25 processing plants, but only three are USDA certified, the rest are designed for custom sales.

Right now, he said they are backed up as well.

He said New Mexico needs more processors to become self-sustainable.

However, New Mexico Rep. Rebecca Dow said there is another option.

“Many states are using state inspections, and we could use that as well, we need buy in from the Department of Ag. and leadership at the state level to allow legislation to pass as it moves through,” she said.

Dow said that would allow the non-USDA certified processors to sell in state and, in turn, grow the processing operation.

The demand is here. In fact, Roadrunner Food Bank just bought beef from Major because their supplies have been delayed.

“To be able to get organic, grass-fed, open-range beef to New Mexico’s tables would be a big win for our state,” said Dow.

As they consider all options, Major said ranchers are suffering. Within the past few months, the price per pound has dropped drastically, from an expected $1.20 to a forecasted $0.81.

“When they receive low prices for their cattle, it not only affects that rancher being able to make his payments to the banks and pay his bills and his feed bills, but it also affects all the businesses in town that that rancher does business with stores, it affects the county through revenue though livestock taxes,” said Major.