As the top beef-producing state east of the Mississippi River, Kentucky cattle farmers have much to be proud of. With over a million head of beef cattle and nearly 40,000 cattle farms in the Commonwealth, Kentucky cattlemen and women are among America’s leaders when it comes to putting a quality meal on your family’s dinner plate.

The work ethic and determination of the farmers at the heart of this multibillion-dollar industry is something we should all be grateful for. I am certainly proud and appreciative of my friends, neighbors and colleagues within the beef industry who have spent a lifetime raising cattle and contributing to Kentucky’s economic livelihood and way of life. May is National Beef Month, and a special time for us to raise awareness of the importance of an industry that faces unique challenges.

As a beef producer myself, I know firsthand about the challenges facing cattle farmers in this day and age. Price volatility, trade uncertainty, and the latest challenges presented by COVID-19 have created an uncertain climate in all of agriculture, including the beef industry.

Much has been made of a meat shortage as yet another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. While our people are being forced to endure tough times as a result of this recent outbreak, I am confident that the resilience of the American farmer and economy will weather these challenges and allow us to come out stronger on the other side.

As a cattle farmer, Kentucky’s former Commissioner of Agriculture, and a current member of Congress serving on the House Agriculture Committee, I am constantly looking for ways to improve opportunities for Kentucky cattle producers. Given the powerful economic contributions made by the beef industry to Kentucky’s economy, it is essential that our nation’s leaders look out for the producers who play an essential role in keeping the supply chain alive and well.

That is why since Congress began supplying funding to various industries to offset the economic downturn from COVID-19, I have pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use money appropriated by Congress to provide relief for cattle producers. I also spoke out forcefully in favor of USDA’s decision to expand their existing investigation into beef market pricing to include the negative effects of coronavirus on plummeting cattle prices. We continue to await those findings, and I recently joined my fellow agriculture leaders in Congress in writing to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in asking for the agency to expedite the release of their findings.

Even before this global crisis, there was a strong disparity between the price that farmers were selling their cattle for, which continues to dip, and the rising cost of beef at the grocery store. This issue received increased attention after a 2019 fire at a beef processing facility in Holcomb, Kansas raised the question of potential marketplace manipulation by retailers and meatpackers – a serious concern that called for heightened scrutiny from the federal government.  

Let me be clear: our cattle farmers deserve to share in the increased demand brought about by their own labor. If retailers and meatpackers are going to see increased profits, farmers should not see the value of their cattle decrease. It is inexcusable for those at the backbone of beef production to be shortchanged at a time when our entire national economy is suffering as a result of a public health crisis. I am grateful to President Trump for his recent action to ask the Department of Justice to also investigate this matter and ensure there is fairness in pricing for cattle farmers.

I want to close by thanking all of our dedicated farmers and essential workers within the meat packing industry for their dedication to our nation’s food supply. At a time when there have been outbreaks of coronavirus at meat processing plants right here in Kentucky, it is not an easy time to continue getting up and going to work every day to ensure a stable food supply for our citizens. But even through factory closings and re-openings – and continued price volatility for our farmers - everyone involved in beef production has answered their nation’s call. During National Beef Month, that is something we can all be grateful for.

Rep. James Comer is a United States Congressman for the 1st Congressional District, which spans from south central Kentucky to the river counties of far western Kentucky. He is also Kentucky’s former Commissioner of Agriculture with a background in beef production.