South Dakota: Beef industry panel discusses competition, COOL, more
South Dakota’s junior Senator Mike Rounds, a republican who has gotten behind a number of initiatives to improve competition in the cattle industry, organized a beef industry panel discussion in Ft. Pierre, SD, June 25, 2021.
Panelists were: RF Buche, owner of Buche Foods in Gregory, Mission, Oacoma, Pine Ridge, Sisseton and Wagner; Kecia Beranek, owner of Turtle Creek Steakhouse, Miller; Dan Cahoy, owner of Cahoy’s General Stores, locations in Bonesteel, Tyndall and Lake Andes; James Halverson, Executive Director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Eric Iversen, independent cattle producer, White River, Brett Kenzy, R-CALF Region III Director, and backgrounder/cow-calf producer, Gregory. TSLN Editor Carrie Stadheim moderated the discussion.
The panelists discussed commonalities, differences, and challenges between the different members of the beef production and marketing chain. It was mentioned many times that South Dakotans know that South Dakota beef is a premium product, but that limited processing availability in the state could be preventing the high quality product from being made available to local stores and eateries.
“South Dakota beef should be Maine lobster, it should be California wine…there are opportunities within this state, and every time we get good beef to a willing consumer, we win,” he said.
The retailers explained that their customers are buying less beef because the price has increased so significantly.
“Right now we find ourselves like in that great story, The Best of Times and the Worst of Times,” said Kenzy.
“These are the best of times because people like Senator Rounds because people like Senator Rounds and his contemporaries that I think…probably really get it now, probably always have…and producers are really starting to get behind the efforts…and it’s the worst of times because of the concentration issues, the anti-trust issues.”
Iversen, Kenzy and Halverson talked about the need for improved competition in the cattle industry, which they believe would help return a greater share of the consumer dollar to the producer.
The retailers and restaurateur voiced many of the very same concerns as the cattlemen. They adamantly shared their desire for the cattle producers in South Dakota to have the opportunity to be more profitable. They explained that when the livestock industry is profitable, their communities thrive. Morale is stronger, people are more interested in buying beef, and their customers feel more confident buying beef knowing that producers are making a fair profit.
The retailers and restaurant owner also spoke about their frustrations with the anti-competitive buying and selling practices, which impacts them in two ways – their choices for purchasing beef, especially local beef, are extremely limited and expensive, plus their communities are severely negatively impacted by low cattle prices.
“Our meat department makes our store successful and growing so I’m glad to have Senator Rounds looking into the packers and checking to see how we can improve the supply chain and get some more consistent pricing,” said Dan Cahoy of Cahoy’s General Stores.
Kecia Beranik said she and her husband convinced a few other couples to purchase the Miller steakhouse in order to keep it in business. “One of our biggest challenges is keeping our costs down for our customers. We know these people are going through the same struggles as us so we want to make sure they are paying a fair price for a really good product…I really appreciate this opportunity. We care about our community, so that is why we do what we do.”
Beranek, responded to a comment about high priced beef forcing retailers and restaurants, in some cases to lose money selling beef, and explained that they very rarely change the price on their menu. “At Turtle Creek (steakhouse) we don’t have any problem not raising our prices if we would know the farmers and ranchers were getting that money, because then we’d know that that money is gong to come back to our community, but the problem is that that money isn’t coming back because they are in the same crunch we are, so we really wouldn’t have any problem if we knew you guys (ranchers) were getting it but we know you’re not,” she said.
RF Buche commented, “Our meat departments make our store. At Buche foods, we only focus on quality, we only carry Certified Angus Beef. …today I’m hoping to accomplish a couple things, one shed some light on the beef packing industry and hopefully we can figure out a path forward for some fair competition. I’d like to see our cattle producers make money and be paid fairly for the hard work that they do, and finally I’d like to help grocery store customers to understand that high beef prices actually cause the grocers to actually make less money which has a severe impact in smalltown South Dakota.”
“The main reason I do this is because of my son sitting back there. I want him to be able to carry on what I’ve done and what my dad did before me. I don’t want to hand him a prison sentence when I’m done and say, well go work really, really hard and I hope you make enough money to pass it on to your son, I want him to be able to be profitable, because we’ve seen there is profit to be make in this industry, quite a bit of it, it’s just not working the way it’s going,” said Eric Iversen, a commercial Angus rancher from Mellette County.
“Some people laugh about ranchers, but we are the risk takers and entrepreneurs and I know you guys are, too… we’re all small businesses, and we understand that it takes profit to innoviate. I think there are so many opportunities for economic development,” said Kenzy.
Senator Rounds asked about imported beef being repackaged with the product of the USA label.
Buche responded, “We are seeing exactly what the senator is saying, we are seeing a boxed beef, product of the USA. It all comes in just exactly like you are talking about, and we cut it up and package it for customers,” he said.
When asked about country of origin labeling, both retailers and the steakhouse owner said that their customers would appreciate it.
“I absolutely think that they (consumers) are interested in knowing where their beef is coming from,” said Buche. “I think they are interested in COOL.”
Cahoy said, “We’re really about local, selling local products. I would love to be able to say this (the beef) is from South Dakota or Nebraksa. Local beef. And I know our customers will spend more money to buy local stuff. They would spend $1 more per steak to know where it was coming from,” he said.
“I know they (customers) want to know where their beef comes from,” said Beranek. “When they come in, they want to know. But they want a fair price as well,” she said.
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