CASCADE — The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, 2020. This over $2 trillion economic relief package is designed to help people recover from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. MTN News will be profiling people and businesses who are being helped by the program.
Miles from the nearest big town, it might be hard to imagine how the LeVeque Ranch in Cascade could have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The family-owned businesses consists of 2,600 acres of land, 300 beef calves, and countless animals, farm and otherwise.
When the pandemic hit, it wasn’t health concerns that started to worry the family, which has owned the ranch since the 1800s, it was the financial implications of meat processing plants and packer facilities closing their doors.
“Cattle prices got hurt pretty devastatingly with the closing of the packer facilities,” said Boo LeVeque. “With this pandemic, they closed down all those facilities due to their employees getting COVID. The commodity market for feeder cattle, and for buying calves, it just dropped. It might be a struggle this year trying to figure out if we’re going to make enough money off our calves this year to pay the bills. As far as the actual pandemic around here…..in our business, it’s pretty impactful.”
The LeVeque family, like the Hughes family from Montana CARES Episode 1, has applied for government assistance like the CARES Act before, but was unsuccessful.
Boo says that the application for this grant was broken down into smaller sections that she thinks gave people a better chance to apply for what they really needed. The family was one of eight businesses to apply for and receive funding through the Agriculture Adaptability Program of the CARES Act. They said that fact that the grant allows them to get much needed equipment is so important because that was their biggest hurdle in recent months.
“My mom did a lot of the paperwork and stuff because it’s tied with the ranch’s tax information,” Boo explained. “Then they worked really easy with us when we told them we didn’t want to cover the charges upfront because we were already using our finances to build the depot itself, and we’re just purchasing the freezer with the CARES money.”
That freezer will allow them to store and sell beef to Montanans year-round, where they previously had to have people wait up to six months to get that meat at the right time of the year.
The ranch’s main source of income is calving out about 200 cows every February and March, and then contracting them to feedlots in states like Iowa. They say that’s what pays most of the bills each year.
Despite that, their main passion is feeding Montanans with local beef every year, something that they were concerned about being able to keep going this year during the pandemic. While the loss of access to some packing facilities is still a hinderance to their work this year, the addition of a freezer will allow the ranch to be more flexible with its business, and should help them make up for some of their lost income from the suffering calf contracting market.
“It’s a big fear,” said Boo when asked if the family was worried about not being able to survive the pandemic financially. “We contract out calves, hopefully around June. They ship out usually in November, October, and to not have them contracted by now is usually pretty scary because if we end up and we don’t contract them out, which is always a possibility, and we take them to the ring here locally, the price we get is not enough to pay the bills, generally. So it’s fairly scary.”
Family-owned businesses like the LeVeque’s are exactly the kind of operation we hope to feature on Montana CARES in the coming weeks. Although not your typical retail store and business, the family ranch exudes hard work and dedication through generations.
“Currently, we just got into raising bees, so that will be a future endeavor,” Boo said. “Thanks to the CARES Act, we’re going to have our meat depot up and running. We’re hoping to take those 40 head of heifer calves and be able to sell all those here in Montana as box beef to local consumers, and try to get out of the commodity market with them, because they’re worth so much less than the steer calves. Day-to-day operations it’s just dad and mom working their butts off all year round.”
Do you know a small business in Montana that was helped by receiving money from the CARES Act during the Coronavirus pandemic and should be featured? Send me an email at Matt.Holzapfel@krtv.com, and we might feature them on a future episode of Montana Cares.