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As news of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 continue, grocery store items are being depleted. Consumers are hunkering down, eating out less and padding their pantry and freezer.
They seem to be hitting the staples — canned goods, milk, meat and toilet paper. Kansas meat and dairy producers are trying to keep up with demand.
“It’s been insane,” said Cassey Shupe, one of the owners of Holton Meat Processing in Holton, Kansas. “We’re working around the clock.”
Holton’s demand for both pork and beef has increased fivefold. Although the animals are available, the market is working overtime to keep up with demand.
The same is true for the dairies.
“We are seeing a massive increase in sales,” said Melissa Reed, the operations manager for Hildebrand Farms Dairy in Junction City. “The beauty of our product is we have a quick turnaround.”
Cows are milked twice a day, seven days a week. Once the cow is milked, the milk is pasteurized, bottled and sent out.
“Our limiting factor is labor,” Reed said. “Many of the products are in the stores but not on the shelves.”
Reed said not just milk but other products are waiting to get onto the shelves. Because of this unprecedented situation due to the threat of shoppers not being able to leave their houses due to an illness or quarantine related to COVID-19, consumers are buying in large quantities.
Like Holton and Hildebrand, Cargill is keeping up with demand.
“We may be working differently, but it does not mean our work stops,” said Daniel Sullivan, a spokesman for Cargill Protein and Animal Health. “Our values — do the right thing, put people first and reach higher — are guiding every decision we make, including keeping our production facilities like the one in Dodge City open.
“We are prioritizing the health and safety of our employees.”
Cargill placed extra restrictions on their Dodge City facility, even before the first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 17 in Ford County , where the plant resides.
“We are adopting additional precautions to support staff at production facilities, including temperature testing where possible, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, prohibiting visitors from our facilities, stopping or limiting international and domestic air travel, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering shift flexibility to keep our major production facilities open,” Sullivan said.
In addition, USDA inspectors are working to ensure all these facilities are inspected. The Food Safety Inspection Service is prioritizing inspection at establishments based on local conditions and resources. The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service officials are continuing to inspect as well.
In Kansas, many farmers continue to hold on to their grains in the hopes that the market will go up once the virus subsides.
Ben Amerin, of Plains, said he sees prices stabilizing in the long term.
“The short term may be a little bumpy,” Amerin said. “I think a lot of people are worried about supply.”
But grains seem to be flowing normally. MKC, which has grain elevators throughout Kansas, said they are not seeing any differences in demand.
“So far we’ve seen no disturbance of supply chains,” said Erik Lange, chief operating officer of MKC. “The grain is flowing smoothly.”