Agriculture experts discuss closure of meat processing plants

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, 13 of the country's largest meat plants have closed.

The closures are leading to worry about whether there will be a shortage of meat available at the grocery store.

On Tuesday President Donald Trump said he will sign an executive order to keep meat processing plants open under the Defense Protection Act.

The Minnesota Beef Council says they've already seen a 25% reduction in harvest numbers over last year at this time.

Last week a Willmar turkey processing plant had to pause production due to COVID-19.

The birds are now being rerouted to another facility.

"Our concern is making sure the processing plants can remain open and that those that work on the farm can keep doing the work they do that puts food on the tables of Minnesotans," said Sarah Anderson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. 

Trump to sign order keeping meat processing plants open

Anderson says she is hoping the closures don't lead to a shortage.

"Obviously we want to encourage consumers to buy responsibly," she said. "We don’t want to see people hoarding and so forth because that benefits no one."

But as processing plants slow down lines to allow time to clean, it is having an impact.

"From a producer standpoint, many of our producers are still raising cattle as they normally would and hoping there’s a market for it," said Karin Schaefer, CEO of the Minnesota Beef Council.

Like turkey, beef producers have had to change direction as businesses closed.

"We quickly were able to shift products that were supposed to go into restaurants or food service or other institutions, like work cafeterias, and were able to ship those into retail pretty quickly," Schaefer said.

Schaefer says consumers will see changes.

"What we might see is some cuts that are a little bit unique, maybe they are going to be harder to find in the grocery stores," she said.

"We do anticipate there may be some increased pricing in the retail store," she added.

Schaefer says there is a good supply of beef currently in cold storage as Minnesota gears up for grilling season and its busy beef months of May and June.

But Anderson says financial assistance will likely be necessary from many in the agriculture community.

"We’re are going to need some help if we’re going to deal with this long-term, we can't afford to have these farm families go under because if they do, that will have long-term impacts for a food supply," she said.