COVID-19 impacts meat industry in Stanly

As COVID-19 ravages meat processing plants around the country, with many workers becoming infected or choosing to stay home, it has created a bottleneck in the supply chain. This has forged a new reality where beef, chicken and pork are not quite as abundant or affordable as they were even a few months ago.

Marcus Harward, owner of the Stanly County Livestock Market in Norwood, said that as a result of the pandemic and the slowdown at the processing plants, farmers are having to slaughter more cattle.

“We got 300,000 extra head of cattle not being processed each week and that’s backing up and so the feed yards are filling up and eventually there’s not going to be room to take these calves unless the workers get back to work,” he said.

“The supply chain is backing up on us,” he added. “And everything is getting full and we’re not moving the meat and the grocery stores are needing it.”

The business at the Market has remained relatively normal, but Harward said if the processing plants continue to struggle to process meat and the feed yards reach full capacity, “we will be impacted.”

Though the Market, which conducts auctions each Wednesday, ships cattle all over much of the country (especially the Midwest) a large portion of its cattle in the spring is sent to the mountain regions of North Carolina and Virginia. Hayward fears that later in the summer, if the feed yards continue to fill, the “mountain boys,” as he calls them, will have no reason to come to Norwood to purchase cattle.

“Who’s going to take the cattle?” he said. “That’s what we’re scared of.”

He said that while there is still enough meat available, there is simply not enough workers around to process it.

Harward, along with his brother David, also operates Harward Brothers Livestock Market in Turnersburg, sells about 700 head of cattle a week in Stanly and about 45,000 to 50,000 a year in the county.

Due to the excess amount of cattle at many of the feed yards, Harward, who has owned the Market since 1991, is also afraid that buyers will eventually start to purchase his cattle at cheaper prices.

The Albemarle Meat Processing Plant has also felt the effects of the pandemic. Due to competitive pricing during the last two months, owner Rahma Mohammed said he is struggling to meet customer needs when it comes to processing lamb and goat.

Mohammed, who has owned the business since 2017, custom processes beef, sheep and deer to individual customers as opposed to grocery stores or restaurants. The plant was formerly Thompson & Sons, which was established in the city in 1954.

“It’s really an unfortunate situation,” he said, adding that the sales for lambs and goats, which make up a large portion of his business, have “declined drastically.” Though his employees are still on his payroll, he worries that he might have to eventually lay some of them off.

He has applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a Paycheck Protection Program loan, both of which are administered through the Small Business Administration. He received $3,000 disaster loan this week.

“The supply chain is broken and it’s putting a lot of strain on people like us,” he said.

Even during the pandemic, Mohammed said people can still support local farmers and small businesses like his. For anyone seeking meat, they can purchase a cow from a farmer and can then arrange for the processing plant to cut the meat any way they would like it.

“It will help the farmers to have their animals purchased and then it will help us to keep employees,” Mohammed said.

Albemarle Meat Processing Plant, which is located on 1718 Blanche St., is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.