Some shelves empty

Some shelves in Walmart’s meat counter were empty on Friday afternoon and prices have increased.

GREG LOWER

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has largely spared rural areas of southeast Kansas, but the impact from other areas is showing up on local dinner tables.

The disease has caused temporary closures of large meat-processing plants and has caused a block between farmers and consumers.

“Farmers still have animals,” Southwind Extension District agriculture agent Chris Petty said. “The real issue is getting those animals processed.”

Although supermarkets are seeing shortages from large processors, small local processors have the opposite problem and are overwhelmed.

“They’re extra busy,” Petty said, noting that locally-owned area meat processors are booked several months in advance.

“There’s a real immediate hiccup in the system,” he said.

Some large grocery chains, such as Costco and Kroger, the parent company of Kansas-based Dillon’s, are restricting how much meat customers can buy, while other stores have seen prices go up drastically.

Groups of farmers and consumers are resorting to the internet to connect. Southwind Extension has a list of licensed processors and producers on its website and there are groups online such as Kansas Farm Connection and Show Me Kansas Farms in Cherryvale.

The Facebook page Shop Kansas Farms was created April 28 and has steadily grown ever since. The page currently has 108,599 members. 

Local restaurants are also having difficulty finding meat.

Mike Dalton of Dalton’s Back Nine said he had problems finding hamburger last week and this week could not get sirloin tips. He said he substituted filet tips, which cost more but customers seem to like them.

“Meat supply is definitely starting to get tight,” he said.

Sonic Drive-In last week placed notices on its video screens that the menu is limited and the family Tuesday evening special has become an app offer only due to supply limitations. The menu is also promoting more chicken and pork, and beef hot dogs with chili and other toppings.

Local Sonic owner Jeff Ports said he is not authorized to speak for the chain, but he is trying to stretch supplies. He said he has beef and does not think he will run out.

Dumping of milk because restaurants and schools are closed, and the euthanasia of hogs because of meat-processing plant closures have been reported in other areas. 

Petty said southeast Kansas does not have major hog farms and there have not been shortages in meat like pork and beef, but the state is a major beef producer. He said Kansas has more cattle than people.

Many of the 10 Kansas counties with the highest number of COVID-19 cases depend on meat processing for their local economies.

KDHE reports 1,536 cases and four deaths connected to clusters at eight meatpacking plants, including one in Missouri that employs people from Kansas.

Ford County currently has the highest number of cases in the state with 1,296 total, more than 1,000 reported in the past three weeks. 

Earlier this week, a Dodge City meat inspector became the fourth US Department of Agriculture inspector to die of COVID-19. The others were in New York, Illinois and Mississippi.

Finney County, home to a Tyson beef plant, has 1,175 total cases, up from 56 on April 22. Eight patients have recovered in Finney County and five have died.

More than 400 employees tested positive for coronavirus at Triumph Foods in the Kansas City region. Kansas City Health Department Director Rex Archer told the Kansas City Star that 70 of the city’s cases are linked to Triumph Foods. A total of 78 cases are connected to Triumph in Wyandotte County.

In Leavenworth County, 42 positive cases  at  a  residential re-entry facility for prisoners transitioning back into society, Grossman Center, are believed linked to residents who work for a Triumph plant in St. Joseph, Mo.

In Seward County, National Beef Packing Co. is a large employer in the city of Liberal and many residents work at a Seaboard pork processing plant in Guymon, Okla. As of Friday, Seward County reported 356 active cases and Texas County in Oklahoma reported 321 active cases.

But Petty said he sees the situation as a short-term issue and not a long-term problem. By late fall, he said, things should be back to more normal.

All COVID-19 cases reported in Neosho, Wilson, Woodson, Bourbon, Cherokee and Labette counties have recovered. Crawford County has one active case remaining and Montgomery County has six. Allen County has not reported any cases.

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