Concerns About COVID-19 and Cattle Auctions Mount

March 24, 2020, 7 p.m. ·


As Americans stocked up for self-isolation, demand for beef shot through the roof nationwide. But as ranchers are wrestling with how to keep business moving without spreading COVID-19 in ranching communities.

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Trey Wasserburger held his annual bull sale last week: normally, around 300 buyers visit his ranch in southwest Nebraska. This year, only 60 showed. “It's a different world than it was two weeks ago," he said. "We're just kind of hoping and praying everybody gets through it, and that it's not as bad as they say.”

The beef industry is centered around live sales, and suppliers often cross state lines to attend. But as COVID-19 makes its way across rural Nebraska, Jara Settles of the Livestock Marketing Association says that kind of mingling seems increasingly risky to some.

“It's a delicate balancing act," Settles said. "But I think it’s our moral and ethical obligation to keep agriculture open, to keep people fed. Because a country that can't feed itself can't defend itself."

But Settles said it's important to hold events "the right way" while COVID-19 circulates throughout communities. She's talked with cattle auctions across the state about how to implement social distancing and take business online where possible. Some have cancelled events or held them remotely, while others are trying to implement crowd control.

And depending on how pandemic continues, Settles says the spike in demand may force ranchers to continue working in unfamiliar ways.

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