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A herd of bison on a feedlot Farm Progress
COVID IMPACT: Bison put on extra pounds in a processing weight in a North Dakota feedlot. Bison bull prices have fallen 37% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bison markets take hit from COVID-19

Although bison prices are down, COVID-19 relief aid may be coming.

Bison prices are being affected by COVID-19, according to formal comments that the National Bison Association (NBA) recently filed with USDA.

Its findings based on surveys indicate:

  • Bull prices have fallen 37%. This is for live bulls weighing 400-800 pounds.
  • Heifer prices are down 25%.
  • Feeding costs have increased by 12% per animal per day
  • Direct market sale volumes are down at least 10%.
  • Thirty eight percent of producers selling direct to consumers report price declines of 20% to 49%; 24% report a price decline of more than 50%.
  • Sixty three percent of producers selling at farmers’ markets anticipate 2020 sales to be down by more than 20%.
  • Fifty percent of producers of selling direct to restaurants and other foodservice outlets report price declines of more than 50%.

The price of bison meat sold by processors has been impacted, too, Carter says.

“As the bison business has grown, we have established markets in both the retail and restaurant/foodservice channels,” he says. “However, most of the high-value cuts (tenderloin ribeyes and strips) have been sold through restaurants. Those three cuts account for 9% of the carcass, but 25% of the value.

“When the pandemic hit, the restaurant business disappeared, and the retail business exploded. But retail stores primarily want ground bison. So, in mid-April, the major processors lowered the price to ranchers by 10% (from $4.10 to $3.70 for young bulls). The price has come back a bit, but not nearly to pre-COVID levels.”

Contracts established prior to March have mitigated some of the impacts, “but we are seeing delayed shock waves,” he says.

The bottleneck in processing capacity is creating significant economic havoc for direct marketers, he adds.

Excluded in first round

Bison were among the agricultural products excluded from USDA’s first round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program relief in May. At the time, USDA said that insufficient market information existed to demonstrate that bison producers had suffered at least a 5% drop in price and income from the period between mid-January and mid-April.

Producers excluded from the first round of assistance had the opportunity to submit information documenting losses, which NBA has done.

Brighter future

Carter is optimistic about the bison industry’s future, despite COVID-19’s impact. Research commissioned by NBA shows that:

1. Consumers are placing greater emphasis on their personal health and the health of the environment. “That’s good news for us,” he says.

2. Shoppers are getting more serious about purchasing food that is part of regenerative agriculture. “We have a very strong story to tell there,” he says.

NBA trademarked the term, “Bison, Nature’s Original Plant-Based Protein.”

“It helps tell the story about the relationship between bison and a healthy grassland ecosystem, Carter says.

TAGS: bison COVID-19
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