by Troy Bishopp
The recent temporary shutdown of the JBS beef processing plant in Souderton, PA, has sent shockwaves throughout the Northeast region and is heavy on the minds of many farmers, truckers, buyers and auction facilities. So what curtails the production of two percent of the U.S. daily cattle slaughter? “Unspecified pests” according to released statements by USDA-FSIS and JBS-USA company officials.
Reuters News Agency reports: “The decision to temporarily halt production was based on sightings of pests around the perimeter of the facility and to conduct repairs at the plant,” said Al Almanza, global head of food safety and quality assurance. He did not specify what kind of pests were seen at the plant, adding that beef produced there was not affected.
“The USDA-FSIS & JBS-USA did the right thing. We are fortunate that the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan in place, worked. There was no choice but to shut the plant down, according to a meat industry professional. While this was certainly a disruption to the market, it is better than a disruption to the entire industry and a straining of the consumer’s confidence.”
Logistically, this has cost JBS-USA dearly, as they have had to divert trucks with additional drivers to move purchased cattle to plants in Michigan and Wisconsin. To avoid production disruptions the company has also had to pay additional yardage at auction barns and buying stations to hold cattle in good care until they can be processed.
With the Souderton plant processing roughly 1,200 dairy cows along with 1,200 beef steers and heifers per day, the situation affected the production chain almost immediately. According to the Agricultural Marketing Service, the price of beef feeders and finished cattle locally are steady to higher but cull dairy animals are down 15 to 20 cents per pound and selling for less than .45/lb.
This is little solace for central New York dairy farmers who rely on JBS-USA, Cargill Beef and Nicholas Meat Packing for a majority of their marketing chains. The consensus among many farmers is to hold their animals on the farm until the plant comes back on line rather than take the lower prices.
One industry source I spoke with said, “It would be wise to hold off on voluntary culls until the plant reopens in order to reserve plant capacity for those cows needing timely processing. The other choice is to ship them and take the discounted market price. This type of situation has been a long time concern in many regions of the country where the number of packing plants has declined.”
This strategy has affected many local trucking companies that transport animals from farm to buying stations. “Our business is down 50 percent,” reported several longtime truckers. There is also concern that when the plant opens again, there will be a flood of animals hitting the market at once, continuing the downward spiral of prices.
The focus now shifts to solving the problems, reviewing procedures and getting the plant up to full capacity before the busy holiday season. This is a dynamic situation so stay informed. There is a lot at stake within the industry and down on the farm.
(The JBS beef processing plant has reopened.)