As a rancher, I know how much hard work, time and dedication go into raising livestock.
I know that these challenges only continue when you try to process your beef, poultry or hogs for meat. From calling meat processors months in advance to transporting cattle many hours away, it is no easy task.
I have also seen what it has been like for consumers over the past couple of months as inflation causes meat prices to rise, shelves to be emptied and restocking to take weeks.
Both the inflation of meat prices and the challenges that ranchers face are attributable to a concentrated and noncompetitive market. Currently in the United States, the four largest meat-packing companies control 85% of the beef market. This lack of competition has affected consumers, ranchers and our household budgets.
When only four major companies control so much of the market, they are able to bolster their own profits by increasing the price that consumers pay and taking money away from farmers and ranchers. Meat and poultry prices are the single largest contributor to the rising cost of food people eat at home, according to the White House.
This is why we need to invest money in people who want to run local and independent processors in order to expand the meat and poultry market. Currently, ranchers have limited options when it comes to choosing meat processors. This can cause a number of problems for these smaller ranches and farms: waiting months to get an appointment to drop off their animals; having to drive hours to get to the nearest processor; and when disasters happen that can shut down a plant (such as COVID-19), ranchers have no place to take their livestock, leaving consumers with empty shelves and ranchers with no income.
Last summer, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to help small farmers and independent processors with a $1 billion investment in expanding the meat processing market to include more independent processors. I am currently running a bill that will help small meat processors and packagers expand and compete fairly in Colorado’s market. My bill will help our neighbors and local Colorado meat processors compete for these funds by providing assistance applying for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and loans to fund independent meat processors.
If we hope to change the market, we need to expand the market and give independent processors the chance they deserve to provide affordable products for American families. By helping small businesses find grants and loans for processing plants, we will support ranchers and new businesses with good paying jobs in rural Colorado.
Agriculture is responsible for feeding and nourishing our families, but can only do so if we give ranchers and farmers access to a fair and dynamic market.
Kerry Donovan represents Senate District 5 in the state Legislature and serves as senate president pro tempore.