Food supply chain could be on the mend despite current prices, availability

Updated: May. 9, 2020 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A disruption in the food supply chain has caused an increase in prices on the consumer side, as well as a blow to the back pockets of producers

A recent social media post breaks the bad news to Blue Oak Barbecue's customer. It indicates, due to supply chain disruptions, meat costs seemingly skyrocketed overnight, causing their prices to go up.

When Fox 8 last spoke to owner Ronnie Evans April 28, he said the more food they sold, the more difficult it was to get certain products.

"Some of our pork products, we're having difficulties sourcing currently. Our brisket has been hard, we've had trouble getting that. But we're almost selling out every day," Evans explained.

"We are seeing a huge demand for a product. We haven't changed our price, nothing is changed here, except people can't go to the grocery store and get more than five or 10 pounds," said cattle producer and Chairman of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Livestock Advisory Committee Marty Wooldrirdge.

Wooldridge upped his wholesale business to deal with the devaluation of prices, but he says many others didn't have that option.

He says, before the pandemic a calf could bring in just over $1,800 but, recently, it's been as little as $1,150.

"It's really jeopardizing the whole industry is what's going on," Wooldridge said. "It's hard to know what your future looks like now."

State officials say the separation between restauaranteurs and producers lies in processing problems. They say all but one state-approved plant shut down due to COVID-19, leaving the sole facility backlogged.

Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain says it's the definition of a supply chain disruption.

"Not only do you not get the product you want, where you want it, in the form you want it, it affects it all the way down to the beginning," said Strain.

Though Strain warns consumers might not find what they want, he says it does not mean there's a food supply shortage. He says a recent executive order will allow the feds to step in and work with processing plants to reopen.

Strain says that could happen in fewer than 10 days.

"We are moving forward to get everything back up to capacity. I think as people come back to work, we get more people back into the plants, you're going to have that food supply. It's going to be available," Strain said.

They might be available but economists caution; those products still might not cost the same, especially with so many unemployed Americans looking for less expensive alternatives.

"That could have some implications for the overall demand for beef cattle and demand for some of our commodities as we move forward," explained economist and Southwest Regional Director for LSU AgCenter Dr. Kurt Guidry.

Guidry says another hard hit industry is seafood, especially crawfish. He says a recent economic impact study indicates the biggest issue there is demand.

"We have producers going out there harvesting crawfish and having normal catches and just don't have the market, the market for those crawfish," Guidry said.

Strain says that makes sense, since restaurants are their biggest buyers.

He and Wooldridge say a number of chickens and pigs were killed because there was no way to process them. If they had waited until plants were back up, Strain says the animals would have been too big for the system to handle.

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