NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The pandemic has impacted every sector of the economy, including New Mexico’s cattle industry. A state senator has an idea he believes will help.
The New Mexico Department of Agriculture says beef is actually one of the state’s top commodities; a major economic driver. But with drought and a pandemic, local ranchers have taken quite a blow.
“In rural New Mexico, it’s one of the main drivers of the economy,” explained Sen. Pat Woods, Broadview-(R). Sen. Woods is also a rancher in northern Curry County.
“My whole district is full of ranchers,” Woods said. “We probably have more cows than people.”
Woods said New Mexico’s home to more than 1.6 million head of beef and dairy cattle, the state’s most profitable agricultural products. Beef alone is a major driver.
“Beef has been a huge economic factor in the state,” explained Kristie Garcia, Director of Public Affairs for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. “Cash receipts for New Mexico beef is $919 million,” she added.
With the pandemic forcing school and restaurant closures nationwide, demand for beef has dropped. The pandemic coupled with the state’s drought has dealt a blow to New Mexico’s ranching community.
“We lost about 25% of the value due to this COVID,” said Sen. Woods. “Different markets shut down, different eating habits changed. What it meant was we ended up just holding beef longer, just trying to outlast the market.”
As a potential lifeline to aid recovery efforts, Sen. Woods is proposing a bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Taiwan. Taiwan’s president recently announced lifting restrictions on the importation of U.S. beef more than 30 months old, something Sen. Woods argues can help New Mexico.
“Any good straight trade deal is a trade between them and us, having the deal work both ways for both countries,” said Sen. Woods. However, that could take a while.
“There’s a lot of tariffs involved in all of this kind of stuff,” said Sen. Woods. “A bilateral trade agreement would spell that out.”
He also acknowledged the U.S. would likely face obstacles in working out a BTA with Taiwan. “It’s a hell of a hiccup when you start talking about recognizing Taiwan’s sovereignty because you have to really take on China,” Sen. Woods said.
In the meantime, ranchers in New Mexico are preparing for winter, hoping a new season will bring more recovery. “I know ranchers all over this state, and they’re just family ranchers trying to make a living,” said Sen. Woods.
Garcia and Sen. Woods agree another thing that could help keep local beef in New Mexico would be adding more USDA certified meat processing facilities. Currently, New Mexico has three operations.
“If we could just get some more packing plants out there and some state inspectors to inspect them so that we could bring New Mexico beef straight into New Mexico food markets, grocery stores, meat markets, it’s a great opportunity,” said Sen. Woods.
Normally, more than 50% of food products are sold to the service industry, such as restaurants, schools, and hotels. As a result of the pandemic, Garcia said meat producers have had to get creative.
“That’s where sort of the bottlenecking comes in,” Garcia said, referring to the limited number of meat processing facilities and the ability to process and package meat for the market. “There’s a lot of product, it’s just a matter of getting it processed and getting it to the right consumers,” she added.