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Times are tough for Montana ranchers, beef producers

Posted at 8:09 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 10:09:48-04

BELGRADE — The on-going GOVID-19 pandemic is taking a big toll on Montana ranchers and beef producers.

“When I started out nobody could spell Wagyu, never mind say it. And now we have a few dozen ranches throughout the state of Montana that are raising them,” said Rick Woienski, owner of Montana Wagyu Cattle Company.

The ranch is located in Belgrade and sees their product from start to finish. From raising cattle to processing.

“It has a nice, subtle buttery taste to it that is noticeably different. It’s a unique product and quite frankly it’s a damn good product,” said Woienski.

The family-run business works primarily with restaurants and foodservice operations across the state, and even across the country. And like many ranchers during the pandemic, times have been tough.

“With the restaurants closed, we’ve dropped 50%-60% of our sales. Now our web sales have picked up but they don’t offset the volume that restaurants do,” said Woienski.

While Montana Wagyu doesn’t work in retail, the ripple effect is far-reaching.

“Now all the restaurant meat is backing up, but yet the flip side is all the consumers are rushing into the supermarket to buy all the individual cuts, so now the whole system is out of kilter and you just can’t simply transition what’s in this,” said Woienski.

“And in the process of doing that, certain prices go up unbelievably quick.”

The unknowns are challenging for ranchers, for example, what will Montana tourism look like this summer and how will that affect business?

“Some days I think, you know what, I should just completely retire and fish.”

But optimism is the driving force on this ranch, “we’re gonna come out ahead of the game. There’s no doubt about that."

This family-run business says now is the time, more than ever, to make sure you’re buying local.

“If people are educated about their beef, they will buy local. Because we’re in Montana, you’re hard-pressed to find anywhere in the world that produces cattle like we do,” said Woienski.