Last week my blog buddy Lorna Sixsmith, in her popular Blog Irish Farmerette, posted detailed and well researched information about the status of beef in Ireland. Many of the farms there are struggling with an overrun of bull calves and huge market limitations for getting that beef into the consumers hands while a decent payback is being grossly limited to the hard worker farmers.
I was shocked to read about the age and size limitations Irish Farmers must adhere to for their bulls to be allowed to sell at market. Perhaps that is because we have always sold our beef direct to the consumer and have never had to live under guidelines forced on us by third party buyers like Tyson and Cargill.
Not unlike the US, Irish Farmers are also battling the supermarkets who buy huge masses of veggies and meat at cut rate prices (to farmers) and then sell it to consumers for far less than it is worth. This of course just encourages the consumer to seek out budget food fostering the mindset that massive amounts of cheap food is best. If they can get a triple sized burger, super sized fries and a drink for a few bucks why would they ever pay $5.79 for a pound of our grass fed beef (or that of another independent farmer?)
Well, the smart consumer will. The smart consumer knows, as Lorna puts it in her post, Is It a Load Of Bull ? "Good food should cost good money and therefore, both the food and the work are appreciated.
Here at home, the small farmer is still allowed to sell meat direct to the consumer , if they are willing to jump through several regulatory hoops and we still are. But now we have an even bigger problem and that is the extreme shortage of beef all over our country.
Due to an extremely harsh winter and the loss of thousands of beef animals, South Dakota was terribly hard hit as early as October 2013 as reported in The Huffington Post, there is now far less beef available "home grown" beef. Coupled with the effects of the drought we suffered in the Midwest summer of 2012 which caused many beef farms to liquidate, there were less animals to begin with, PRIOR to the bad winter.
Here on South Pork Ranch we did not lose "thousands" but we did lose 7 beef animals due to the extreme cold,or nearly 25% of our beef herd. This is a financial loss of over $14,000 in projected beef revenue, a huge amount for our small farm. How are we coping? Fortunately beef is not our only product, we also sell pork. Unfortunately we lost two whole Red Wattle litters due to the cold, less pigs means less income. Fortunately we also sell raw milk and sales have increased in that area, but unfortunately not near enough to off set the loss of meat income.
Therefore we had to raise our beef (and pork) prices in January.
Soon our raw milk price will go up as well.
Back to our country in general. In the 1980's the U.S. there were over 115 million cattle, now that number is less than 90 million which might explain why we import approximately 15% of our beef from Canada, Mexico, Australia and South America.Beef is obviously limited and beef prices are skyrocketing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average price of ground beef in February 2014 was up to $5.28/pound compared to just $4.19/pound in 2013. A decade before it averaged $3.60/pound.
This means that CAFO raised , non-organic, non 100% grass fed ground beef is selling for just 51 cents less than our own ground beef! Fortunately (here I go again) we are able to set our own prices based on our expenses and therefore we can and will be increasing our beef prices again. Our customers who appreciate the type of product we offer will, I know, pay the increased price as they value good food and more importantly they value our hard work.
But what has happened to our country and small countries like Ireland where less and less consumers value good food and hard work? Is it all solely our governments fault for making cheap food so easily available while at the same time throwing their farmers under the bus or must we the farmer also assume some blame?
If I the farmer want others to appreciate other farmers hard work and be willing to pay them a fair price then am I not responsible to lead the way? Every time I stop at the large local grocery store to pick up cheap veggies that traveled 2000 miles from California rather than take the time to plan my meals and then buy LOCAL produce for a bit more at the Farmers Market 15 miles from my house...I am adding to the problem.
Every time I run my GK's through McDonalds (less than 3 times a year now...but still) and get them a cheap and icky tasting, bad for them "Happy" meal rather than take the time to bring our ground beef to their home and cook it for them...I am adding to the problem.
Every time I grab a box of cereal , produced from GMO corn bought by a huge conglomerate at a cut rate price from a farmers whose debt load is twice as high as it was when he started in farming 30 years ago, rather than walk my butt 200 feet out to our own Farm Store, grab a bag of organic wheat flour grown by another local farmer and a couple of eggs from our own coop and make real pancakes from scratch...I am adding to the problem.
I cannot as one farmer change what an entire government has successfully screwed up but I can still every single day make a difference on my own farm, in my own kitchen, with my own family, in my own community.