Utah Farmers Taking Hits, Feeling Financial Sting From COVID-19

Apr 26, 2020, 7:15 PM | Updated: Aug 1, 2022, 11:27 pm

MORONI, Utah — There isn’t an industry that hasn’t been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst the hardest hit are farmers, who fear disruption in the supply chain will only get worse as closures continue. KSL talked to a sheep farmer in Sanpete County who said they are feeling the financial sting from COVID-19, taking hits to their workforce and pocket books.

“We as American farmers work to keep America fed,” said Wade Eliason, owner of Box L. Ranch in Sanpete County.

The Eliason family has been farming in Moroni for generations.

“I’m the 6th generation, Halie is the 7th, Daitlin is the 7th generation here,” Eliason said.

About 4,000 sheep are the Eliason family’s bread and butter, and spring is usually their busiest season.

The sheep are sheered for wool, baby lambs are born, and those that are ready are sold to meat processors by the pound.

“For lamb — like a month ago — we were receiving around $1.45-1.50 [per pound],” Eliason said, explaining that lamb meat makes up the bulk of his ranch’s revenue.

He said the pandemic has been eating away at their profits.

“I was told this past Wednesday, there were some producers that sold for 80 cents a pound… that’s a devastating number,” Eliason said, explaining that the price isn’t even enough to brake even.

Eliason said restaurants account for at least half of the demand for lamb in the United States.

“Lamb is a specialty meat for fine dining,” he said.

The most surprising thing of COVID-19, he said, was the realization of their dependence on demand from the food service industry.

“We didn’t realize the food service industry consumed the amount of our products that it does,” he said.

The demand for wool is in even worse shape.

Eliason said farmers are facing disruptions on every step of the supply chain — from sheering the sheep, to selling it.

In recent years, the military has purchased the bulk of the family’s wool, but those contracts are currently on hiatus, and Eliason said he can’t find other buyers.

“Last year, we were at the mid $2 range to $3 range [per pound], and this year, you can’t even get a price at this point, no dollars,” he said.

To make matters worse, some of his Peruvian herders are stuck back home waiting for travel to resume.

Eliason said their work visas require them to leave the country for 90 days every few years.

His workers were five days away from being able to fly back to the states before the pandemic ceased travel.

“They were supposed to let them fly back on April 26, but they’re not here,” he said.

If there’s anything the older generations have taught the Eliason family, it’s to keep going and stick together.

Eliason said his daughters, wife, and nephews are all rolling up their sleeves to keep things going.

The family said people could help their cause by buying lamps chops and wool socks.

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Utah Farmers Taking Hits, Feeling Financial Sting From COVID-19