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Beef Farmers Call for Probe of Possible Market Manipulation

In March, live cattle futures dropped 3.5% on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, while demand for beef was skyrocketing. That has producers worried about price manipulation in the beef markets. (Adobe Stock)
In March, live cattle futures dropped 3.5% on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, while demand for beef was skyrocketing. That has producers worried about price manipulation in the beef markets. (Adobe Stock)
April 6, 2020

FORBES, N.D. -- Beef producers in North Dakota are calling on federal officials to look into the possibility of market manipulation.

They say a recent drop in prices is hurting them, but benefiting others in the industry.

Those raising the concerns point to a 91% increase in beef demand last month, as people stocked up on goods in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, live cattle prices dropped, while prices for packaged meat went up.

Rancher Ryan Brokaw, a member of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says there's concern the four major meat packing firms are engaged in unfair practices.

"They're robbing us blind, and there's people going out of business because nobody in government is willing to step up and take care of it," he states.

Along with both U.S. senators from North Dakota, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has called on the Justice and Agriculture Departments to investigate.

Last year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said his office would investigate similar concerns, but no findings have been issued.

The North American Meat Institute, which represents the packing firms, denies these companies are doing anything illegal, and instead points to market volatility caused by the pandemic.

Brokaw says he was lucky to have sold some of his steers back in February, before the price drop. He says that prevented a loss of more than $40,000, but other producers aren't as lucky.

"I know several producers just around my little area here that haven't sold anything while this deal's crashing, and it's a pretty high stress situation right now," he states.

Despite his recent sale, Brokaw says he's still sitting on half of his stock. He worries that market volatility and less demand from the restaurant industry during the pandemic will be harmful to his bottom line.

Disclosure: North Dakota Farmers Union contributes to our fund for reporting on Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND