2004 is already shaping up to be a tough year for Florida's cattle industry. The mad cow disease scare is sending beef prices tumbling, and even though the disease is not in Florida, the fallout could spell the end for some Florida cattlemen.
Payne Midyette has been raising cattle for about 60 years. He says the mad cow disease scare is taking a major toll on the beef business.
Prices are down 20 percent since a cow tested positive in Washington State.
“It's really unfortunate it happened when it did because we were just beginning to move into a price level in cattle where just about everybody was making a little money, and that was projected to last two or three years. It got cut short,” says Payne.
Florida has some of the strictest testing procedures in the country for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. Still, the scare is causing a domino effect. Cattle born in Florida typically go out west for fattening up and harvesting, but some of the western feed lots aren't accepting new calves because they can't sell the ones they've got. The packing plants aren't buying or are offering much lower prices.
Beef importers in Cuba blame mad cow concerns for a decision to put a shipment of Florida cattle on hold. It would have been Florida's first export of cows to Cuba in about 40 years
Midyette says a lot depends on public perception.
"I just hope people don't panic and they keep on eating beef and we'll work our way through this," says Midyette.
But if people don't buy the safety message, the health of Florida's cattle industry could be at stake. The beef business is a $300 million industry in Florida. Florida ranks 11th in beef-producing states nationally.