When Tyson announced on Jan. 25, 2008, that it would cease slaughter operations in Emporia, the industry that took the most direct hit was the local cattle industry whose cattle were harvested at Tyson.
Cattleman Scott Briggs said the night of the Tyson announcement that it would affect cattlemen who fattened or finished cattle.
“They usually go to Tyson when they’re fat,” Briggs said on Jan. 25, 2008. “I would imagine our plans would be changed now. It will affect us.”
Briggs was right. Almost a year later, he said a lot of operations have changed.
“Before, you had a choice where I can fatten a few or sell them for feeders,” he said. “Now, you sell them for feeders.”
Cattle also are having to be shipped longer distances.
“It used to be if you had 30 or 40 head, not really enough to ship west, you could go to the Tyson buyer and you could take them to Emporia. Now you have to take them to Iowa and Nebraska. You just sell them at a lighter weight and sell to people who are going to put them in feedlots.”
Richard Porter, who runs a cattle operation in northeastern Lyon County, also predicted dramatic effects on the industry. He, too, was right.
Porter said it costs about $20 more per head of cattle to ship long distances. This only adds to the economic blow. Nationwide, it is costing about $130 more per head to finish cattle. This is due to higher prices of cattle coming in, the price of a finished cow decreasing and the extremely high price of feed.
“The $20 is just an additional cost,” Porter said. “The local impact was about what one expected. What was not expected was that, nationwide, the finishing industry would take such an economic hit. With the global situation, it just throws an additional layer of uncertainty on the cattle industry.”
Porter said there is no way to pass on his higher costs.
“You tighten your belt,” he said.
Cattle are having to be shipped 10 times the distance they were being shipped locally, Porter said. Shipping puts stress on the animal, causing lower performance at harvest.
“When they go calmly from resting in their pen to when they are harvested, there is a longer delay,” he said. “One can minimize that but not eliminate it.”
Porter did have some better news to offer.
“I tried different places to market the cattle and fairly quickly settled back in with 100 percent of my cattle going to a Tyson slaughter plant (the same Tyson buyer),” he said. “For a few months there was a lot of extra hassle, from my standpoint. After exploring more options, my best deal was to carry out the same deal with the same person and let him pick where they are going.”
Now the goal is to settle back into a groove with delivery of cattle. In Emporia, Porter delivered his cattle to Tyson first thing Monday morning, when the demand was the highest.
“It’s taken awhile, but we’re getting there where I can make it work for these other Tyson plants because obviously I can’t deliver first thing Monday morning,” he said.
Porter said he is considering changes to his business.
“I am considering evolving my operation to not finishing all my cattle but selling them as feeders,” he said. “Because without the Emporia plant next door I no longer have a competitive advantage to finish cattle at my location. ... Currently, my finishing cattle at home is just a mechanism for me to market my cattle. That is the only economic incentive for me to market my cattle.”