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Cattle Market Slump

6/19/2017:

As the United States entered World War II, North Dakota ranchers were busy supplying beef to the armed forces. At the same time, they tried to keep meat on the tables of American families. It was an enormous task. But on this date in 1943, ranchers ran into a major obstacle when five packing plants in Chicago suspended operations. Nine others reported that they had already stopped slaughtering. Packing plants in Ohio were also shutting down. Consequently, ranchers had trouble finding a market for their cattle in spite of consumer demand.

The slaughter houses complained about government price regulations. There was uncertainty in the government meat subsidy program, and no one could be sure what they would be paid. In one year, the number of cattle being shipped to market dropped from 180,000 to 130,000.

Both Republican and Democratic Congressmen from agricultural states demanded prompt action from Senate leaders. A petition said there should be a vote to restrict price decreases. The Senators said that ranchers were in “a state of absolute demoralization” because of retail meat price rollbacks.

Senators were not the only ones demanding action. Ranchers from Iowa and Nebraska met and said they would withhold all animals from slaughter unless the government rescinded price rollbacks. They appealed directly to President Roosevelt.

The government had created a complex system. The price of food was fixed, and in most cases prices were rolled back. For example, the government rolled back the price of meat by two cents per pound. That loss could not be taken from packing house labor since wages were fixed. So, the rollback was taken from the amount packing houses paid farmers. A decrease of two cents per pound put the hardship squarely on the rancher. The loss was supposed to be offset by government subsidies, but many Congressmen opposed subsidies, and there was no guarantee the rancher would ever see a dime from the program.

The Fargo Forum predicted a meat famine. There was no way that North Dakota ranchers could survive the price rollbacks. That situation extended to ranchers across the country. It was in part the result of a government strategy to encourage hog production over cattle, with the idea that hogs matured more quickly and provided lard – an important resource, not just for cooking, but for the manufacture of weapons, munitions and various accessories.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Fargo Forum. “More Packers Shut Down.” “Appeal to Roosevelt.” “Solons Urge Action.” “The Complex Subsidy System.” Fargo, ND. 19 June, 1943.