New Data Shows Significant COVID-19 Impact on Bison Marketplace

June 23, 2020

The economic disruption impacting nearly all sectors of the U.S. bison business far exceeds the threshold required to qualify bison producers for assistance being offered to agriculture through USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), according to formal comments that the National Bison Association filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday.

Bison were among the agricultural products excluded from USDA’s first round of CFAP relief in May. At the time, the agency said that insufficient market information existed to demonstrate that bison producers had suffered at least a five percent drop in price and income from the period between mid-January and mid-April.

However, producers excluded from the first round of assistance have until today to submit information documenting losses exceeding five percent. USDA will use that information to determine which agricultural commodities will be eligible for an additional $637 million in assistance.

Based on information compiled from a series of surveys conducted by the bison association over the past month, prices for live bison weighing between 400 – 800 lbs. dropped 37 percent for bulls and 25 percent for heifers in the period between mid-January and mid-April. Producers responding to one on-line survey indicated that feeding costs have increased by 12 percent per animal per day during that same period.

In a separate survey, farm-direct marketers form 24 states echoed the impact cited by the ranchers selling into larger commercial markets. The farm-direct marketers reporting live animal sales as at least 10 percent of their business reported that prices have dropped significantly. Thirty eight percent reported declines between 20-49 percent, while 24 percent of the respondents reported price drops exceeding 50 percent.

The bottleneck in processing capacity is creating significant economic havoc for farm-direct marketers. Even though the survey did not ask about difficulties in getting animals scheduled for processing, nearly one-third of the respondents cited that as a critical factor harming their business.

Farm-direct marketers selling to restaurants and other foodservice outlets reported a sharp drop in sales, with half reporting sales declines exceeding 50 percent. And, 63 percent of the producers participating in farmers’ markets said that they anticipate 2020 sales to be down by more than 20 percent.

The association noted that the criteria established by USDA for determining eligibility for assistance was challenging because most economic activity in the bison business occurs outside the January-April time frame each year. While the producer surveys did provide information documenting a strong impact, “That information also serves as a type of canary in the coal mine, exposing the explosive impacts felt beyond mid-April,” the association’s comments note.

Source: NBA