Most of us are familiar with the saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Unfortunately, the continuing coronavirus situation has exposed a weak link in the supply chain bringing meat to customers.
Other shortages, like we saw in early March, were caused by an increased demand for products like toilet paper and bottled water, which were then out of stock, or at least severely limited for weeks. But soon, customers may be seeing empty meat counters for an entirely different reason.
In the early stages of the pandemic, several large meat-processing plants were forced to close because of illness. And here, our weak link develops. The problem wasn’t the amount of meat available – farmers were still operating, and product levels weren’t affected. It wasn’t an over demand – if anything, with hotels closed and restaurants limited, there should have been an abundance.
Instead, we have a situation which is almost unprecedented — a supply of meat, but very few operations are still working and able to process it and get it to customers.
Of course, as if this weren’t enough of an inconvenience for Florida ranchers, there’s another wrinkle to this situation. Back in February, when the coronavirus was still in our periphery, the USDA lifted a ban on imported beef from Brazil, which had been in place since 2017. Although the supply kept product on the shelves, this added extra competition for the local farmers.
Fortunately, local operations have begun to circumvent the closures of the big processing plants. Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch, 10 miles west of Lake Placid, partnered with Chop-N-Block in Winter Haven to ensure their beef is processed quickly, safely, and made available to local consumers. These sorts of partnerships show the sort of creative thinking needed to rebuild when we are all reopened.