OKEECHOBEE — As Floridians waited and worried about the news of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, it was business as usual on Monday and Tuesday at the Okeechobee Livestock Market. Cattlemen can’t “shelter in place.” They have work to do, taking care of livestock and helping to make sure the country has a safe and stable food supply.
Todd Clemons, Okeechobee Livestock Market president, said they sold about 600 head of cattle through the market during the Monday and Tuesday sales. “All of the buyers were here,” he said.
The market’s auction area has seats for about 80 people. Mr. Clemons said there were about 20 people in the room, so there was plenty of space.
“Cows and cattle are a perishable commodity,” he said. “The market needs to stay open.”
Mr. Clemons said cattle prices have been depressed due to the uncertainty in the stock market. Lower cattle prices affect not only the ranchers but also the feed stores, the ranch workers, the truck drivers who haul cattle from Florida to the feedlots in the Midwest, the people who work in the feedlots and everyone else involved in the industry.
The market will take time to correct itself, he predicted. “It’s going to blow over, but it is going to take some time.
“The producers are suffering,” he said. “But the (meat) packers are making more money now than ever.
“I was really worried for a few days,” he said. But on Tuesday auction prices were better than Monday. “It’s a moving target,” he said. “I hope the government doesn’t step in and affect commerce.”
Mr. Clemons said grocery store meat cases are empty because “people are in panic mode.” He said the supply of meat has not changed, but people are buying more than usual. “The herd count is what it was,” he said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Mr. Clemons said of the public panic about the COVID-19 virus.
“We’ve got a choice,” he said. “We can panic about it or we can pray about it. We made the decision to pray.”