Nebraska beef industry meets challenges


OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – It’s hard to imagine any industry in the US that didn’t hit some rough spots early on in the COVID-19 pandemic and that includes the beef industry.

Consumers in the Metro lined up to buy large quantities of meat products for their freezers, requiring some retailers to put limits on purchases. Some meat markets were so busy they had to tell individual customers they would have to wait months, up to a year, to butcher livestock or process wild game for them.

Prices rose and demand far exceeded supply.

But the Hanke family has been in the local meat business since the 1960s in Millard, and BIG Meats rolled with it.

“Suppliers would do their best to get what I needed, and sometimes I would have to push it off (for a customer). It was a crazy time and I hope we never see that again,” Dave Hanke said. He and his brother, as well as other family members, carry on a business started by his father and uncle. “Prices were crazy, people just buying anything and everything. You know, people needed to eat, couldn’t go out to eat, they were cooking at home. Obviously, that’s all changed now.”

What’s changed is supply chain issues have leveled out, beef suppliers are back to speed and they’re able to keep up with the orders they get. Customers have come back but some behaviors may have changed during the pandemic, and pocketbooks are still recovering.

“People, they want to get a good steak, they come and get one from me,” Henke said. “I may be a little out of their way now because of gas prices being (so high), they might not come as frequently, or maybe buy a little more when they do come, or buy a hamburger instead of a steak, but I ‘ll sell ’em what they want and give ’em the good stuff.”

Of course, there’s always a challenge around the corner for the beef industry, the largest sector of Nebraska’s agriculture industry. If it’s not that price of a gallon of gas affecting transport or customers, there’s the seriousness of Nebraska’s drought.

“Obviously with moisture and rain and weather, you don’t know what your gonna get,” Nebraska Beef Council executive director Ann Marie Bosshamer said. “That’s also speaking from the perspective of corn, soybean, any of our agricultural producers in our state, they really do a wonderful job.”

One of the things that work in the favor of locals like BIG is that they’re in the Midwest.

They have everything they need to keep the business going right here, including access to land, feed supply, and a state full of loyal beef consumers.

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