Agriculture is the leading industry in Nebraska, and cattle production represents the largest segment of the industry - contributing more than $6.5 billion in cattle sales each year to the state’s economy. The beef cattle industry has an impact on nearly every citizen in Nebraska.

The importance of cattle feeding to Nebraska’s economy per capita runs deeper than in other states. Nearly 5 million head are finished and marketed in Nebraska, a state with a population of 1.8 million residents. While there are other states, such as Texas and Iowa, that market more head of cattle than Nebraska, they also have a higher population. This means their standard of living isn’t nearly as dependent on cattle feeding as Nebraska’s. According to the Nebraska Beef Council, cattle outnumber people in Nebraska nearly four to one.

While we have heard a lot of conversations in recent weeks about the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on our schools and businesses, we must also be aware of the impact it is having on our ag industry.

“COVID-19 has been tough on everyone: cattle, people, and yes even pets having to put up with all of us at home all day. The beef industry has really taken the brunt of some of the issues caused by this pandemic,” said Heath Keiser. Keiser is a 2020 Gothenburg High School graduate and served as President of the school’s FFA chapter his senior year. He is also part of a cattle-producing family.

Keiser talked about the effect of COVID-19 on meat processing facilities, and how that impacts producers like him. “Packing plants thrive on processing cattle in a more confined area which means that workers are within close proximity of each other when they are working. This creates an environment that allows for easy transmission of the disease between coworkers if one of them were to catch it,” Keiser explained. “While the governor and President Trump have declared these plants essential to keep food in the hands of Nebraskans and Americans, they have butted heads with some workers who are not completely comfortable going to work risking exposing themselves or family members. Many plants have cut down on the number of head they are taking and taking some steps to clean their facilities before returning to work. This has caused my family feedlot a few headaches. We are not alone in this challenge either. Beef and swine finishers are faced with the challenge of having market ready animals with no market to send them to.”

Fellow GHS grad and FFA officer Savannah Peterson also raises cattle with her family, and said while she is not extremely knowledgeable and up-to-date with the impact the virus is having on the industry she does know there is not a shortage of beef on the producer side.

“On our farm, in terms of operating, not much has changed. There is still work that needs to be done,” said Peterson. “The biggest difference is that all of the kids are home to actually get everything done.”

Nebraska beef is not just enjoyed locally, or even nationally - but globally. The opportunity to promote beef in the foreign marketplace has been an emphasis for the Nebraska Beef Council (NBC) for decades. The beef raised here in Nebraska is well-known across the globe and consumers love the high-quality product.

Keiser said while his family navigates their way through the pandemic in their operation, he is keenly aware that this is much larger than just a cattle producer’s issue. “These are some very interesting times, but there is one saying that truly rings with me right now more than ever - ‘Tough times don’t last but tough people do.’ This is something we have to take pride in and full-heartedly accept. We must keep moving forward and not let Coronavirus keep us down,” Keiser said. “It is an incredible opportunity for us to explore passions or find interests we maybe never would have found. Stay positive, stay healthy, and above all be proud to be an American!”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.536.6499