MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — The sound of idling engines mingled with the bellowing, grunting, snorting, and mooing of the cattle nearby.
On Saturday, Aug. 13 at the Spring Lake Livestock Auction, the trucks were lining up to offload cattle from the trailers they hauled.
While that scene played out in Moneta, similar displays go on almost every day across the Commonwealth. Virginia is the 18th leading producer of beef cattle in the United States.
When you think of cattle, you might think of states out west. So, why Virginia?
“We’ve got large acreages of pasture and hayland to run these cattle on,” explained Scott Barker, an agent with the Bedford County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Also, livestock markets, we have livestock markets in easy commuting distance to our producer to take their animals to market.”
Convenience, land, and infrastructure make it possible, but so does one other vital factor.
“We’ve got lots of streams and water keep everybody, to keep them all watered,” added cattle farmer Ken Sumner. “That’s the main thing, if you have some green hills and good waterways, that’s what produces good cattle.”
A lot of cattle produced in Virginia is raised to just beyond calf status and then sold. That cattle is then moved out west to mature.
Though cattle prices are high and holding steady, Virginia farmers say inflation is cutting into their bottom lines.
“Our prices are not matching up with fertilizer cost and fuel cost,” Sumner said. “We’ve been behind the eight ball as far as the expenses to produce.”
Cattle farmer Johnny Hawthorne echoed that sentiment: “A lot of of pastures and hayland weren’t fertilized this year because of the cost. It more than doubled from 2021.”
That could mean a feed shortage later in this year, which would force some farmers to sell off livestock that they would normally keep to breed or raise.
Despite that and other issues, cattle farmers say dealing with obstacles comes with the territory.
“We’ve done that in the past, we’ve worked through floods, but we’ve never had fuel as high as it is,” said Hawthorne while gesturing to his cattle in a pen awaiting auction.
Hawthorne says despite the ups and downs of farming, he is confident of its future.
According to experts, farmers who can be flexible and versatile will succeed.
“A farmer wears a lot of hats,” said the Spring Lake Livestock manager, Alisha Roach. “He doesn’t have one hat, he has to change them all the time. He has to be a businessman, an accountant, a crop farmer, and still be a tender to his cattle, also.”
Farming is a vital to Virginia’s economy. Each dollar spent in a farming community has a multiplier effect by providing jobs in retail, energy, hospitality, and grocery businesses, as well as adding to the tax base to provide community services to thousands of people. In that way, buying local beef is an investment in the Commonwealth.
Farmers say they want to ensure a return on their investment, but they also want to provide a quality product at a fair price, which requires consumers.
“People need to just keep buying beef,” said Sumner. “Buy it, whatever you can afford.”