Rancher Rusty Kemp poses near grazing cattle on his ranch northwest of Tryon, Nebraska. (Todd von Kampen/The Telegraph via AP)

Rancher Rusty Kemp poses near grazing cattle on his ranch northwest of Tryon, Nebraska. (Todd von Kampen/The Telegraph via AP)

Cattle eat on a feedlot in Columbus, Nebraska. (AP/Nati Harnik)

Cattle eat on a feedlot in Columbus, Nebraska. (AP/Nati Harnik)

Dan Hogan looks for a steak at a grocery store in Burnsville, Minnesota. Beef prices at stores have been increasing recently. (AP/Jayme Halbritter)

Dan Hogan looks for a steak at a grocery store in Burnsville, Minnesota. Beef prices at stores have been increasing recently. (AP/Jayme Halbritter)

Large truck trailers stand outside the National Beef Packing Co. plant in Dodge City, Kansas. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

Large truck trailers stand outside the National Beef Packing Co. plant in Dodge City, Kansas. (AP/Orlin Wagner)

Cattle rancher Joe Whitesell rides his horse in a field near Dufur, Oregon, as he helps a friend herd cattle. (AP/Gillian Flaccus)

Cattle rancher Joe Whitesell rides his horse in a field near Dufur, Oregon, as he helps a friend herd cattle. (AP/Gillian Flaccus)

Battle for Beef

Posted: January 1, 2022

Meet rancher Rusty Kemp. For years, he’s grumbled about rock-bottom prices paid for the cattle he raises in central Nebraska. Beef prices at grocery stores keep climbing. Why isn’t he, the rancher, seeing some of the bucks buyers shell out for beef?

Did you know that only four companies slaughter over 80% of America’s cows? Those companies set the price for beef. Let’s say you spend a dollar on beef. In the 1970s, 35 cents of that dollar would go into the pockets of ranchers and farmers. Now, only 14 cents does. As the amount given to ranchers shrinks, the amount taken by big beef companies grows.

Is that fair? Ranchers don’t think so. Cattle start out on their farms. The cattlemen spend a lot of money caring for the animals as they grow. These ranchers invest a lot before the animals ever get to the feed lots and slaughterhouses of big beef companies.

“We’ve been complaining about it for 30 years,” says Mr. Kemp. “It’s probably time somebody does something about it.”

Mr. Kemp launched a bold plan: Raise more than $300 million from ranchers. Use the money to build a new beef production plant controlled by farmers, the people who raise the cows. Now crews are constructing the Sustainable Beef plant on nearly 400 acres near North Platte, Nebraska. Will this new beef processing plant succeed?

The ranchers face a hard task. Big beef suppliers have efficient factories. They can process a lot of beef in a short time and sell it at the prices they choose. How could a smaller plant like Sustainable Beef do the same?

Sustainable Beef owners plan to use more modern equipment than the big beef companies. They want to pay employees more and allow them to work more convenient hours. Will this help workers stick with the company? Sustainable Beef officials hope so.

David Briggs is the CEO (chief executive officer) of Sustainable Beef. “Cattle people are risk takers,” he says. “They’re ready to take a risk.”

Why? “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18) It is important that people in the cattle business, like all honest industries, are paid fairly for their work.