Garrard prices near pre-mad cow levels

January 12, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - If the farmers at Friday's cattle auction were uptight over the mad cow scare, it was hard to tell.

The discovery of a diseased holstein in Washington state Dec. 22 quickly depressed cattle prices as much as 20 percent, and there was plenty of speculation that the market was in for more heartache.

But at the Garrard County Stockyards, prices - especially for calves and smaller stock - were at nearly pre-mad cow levels. Most of the men interviewed were optimistic that the worst of the crisis was over.

"Selling pretty good," said Roy Thompson of Somerset. "Lots better than anyone expected."

Like many of the people watching the auction, Thompson was there mostly out of curiosity about what prices would bring. That uncertainty, along with heavy snow, made for a light day.


Garrard County farmer Harvey Kessler said farmers were "skeptical" about prices and expected them to be cautious before heading back to market.

"If I had cattle to sell I'd hold back to see what happened," he said.

Hobert Holcomb of Paint Lick was doing just that.

"We've got about 24 we'll sell if it don't go down too much," he said. "We're just waiting to see how it's doing."

It didn't take long. Prices in the morning's auction appeared solid.

One eye-opening sale was of 88 head that brought 96.6 cents a pound.

"That's about what they brought before Christmas, maybe a nickel less," Kessler said.

The good prices are a relief to farmers, many of whom worried that the discovery of mad cow disease - even in just one animal - might devastate the cattle industry. All it would take is a public that doubted the safety of beef.

That, however, hasn't happened. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey released Friday found that Americans have largely shrugged off the scare, with only about one in three thinking the mad cow situation in this country is a crisis. And only one in six worry about getting the disease.

"The good thing was that customers in the U.S. did not lose faith" in American beef, Kessler said. "Most people have enough sense to know that ground chuck or ground steak doesn't have" mad cow disease, he said.

For farmers in Kentucky, the eighth largest cattle-producing state and the biggest east of the Mississippi, rebounding from the mad cow scare is life matter of life and death.

Friday's auction gave them some breathing room.

"With the prices they're bringing here today, you can make money," Kessler said.

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