42 CALF News • August | September 2020 • Beyond the Ranch Gate The A.B. Normal By Blaine Davis Contributing Editor A s this new“normal” continues with no end in the foreseeable future, my “ranch gate” has become abnormally inactive. There have been just a few visits with my kids and grandkids, and a trip for a long overdue haircut, but mainly I have occupied my time by devouring a half-dozen more books and performing several home improvement projects. Thinking of what’s normal and abnormal, I remember a scene from the 1970s comedic parody by Mel Brooks, Young Frankenstein . In this, what I call a classic, Igor the lab assistant delivers a brain in a jar labeled “abnormal” to the young doctor to make his monster complete. Contrary to Igor’s belief that it was from a Mr. A.B. Normal provided a film of comedic action. Today, this pandemic and inordinately worldwide affliction to a novel virus, has touched us all, but not in a Mel Brooks’ humorous way. Well into the summer months, most states are grappling with reportedly skyrocketing new cases of the COVID-19 virus, increasing unemployment numbers, re- opening and then re-closing businesses and maybe the most puzzling, how do we do educate our children? In conjunction with the spread of the virus, we have experi- enced commodity shortages from ground beef to toilet paper. Interruptions in the operational chain in packing facilities and the reduction of harvest led to an increase in average car- cass weights and higher grading cattle. Cattle grading Prime increased to more than 12 percent, 4 percent more than one year ago. The Daily Livestock Report states,“The large increase in available Prime and the lack of traffic through white tablecloth restaurants has greatly affected the premium of Prime product relative to other grades.” Prime beef with its loin values higher than last year rarely finds its way into ground beef, and it more lends itself to pre- mium cuts for special occasions for smaller group sizes. Due to a pandemic-induced pinch in the supply chain, all carcass grade premiums have risen with the tighter supply of beef, with Choice and Select premiums rising as much as 20 percent, adding to retailers’ shorter supplies and empty display cases. With the retailers’ shortages, real or perceived, another abnormality has come to the front – the “fake meat” contin- State of the Industry gency. Just as McDonald’s stopped its test of Beyond Meat’s Plant Lettuce and Tomato or P.L.T. sandwich, Beyond Meat and its rival Impossible Foods see the coronavirus pandemic as a growth opportunity. Last month, Beyond Meat introduced “heavier discounting against animal protein” and promised “aggressive pricing.” According to Greg Henderson of Drovers magazine, CEO Ethan Brown told investors on a call that Beyond Meat would introduce lower-priced bulk value packs to grocers who may struggle with supply shortages of beef and pork. Beyond Meat’s chief competitor, Impossible Foods CEO and founder Patrick Brown, told CNBC’s Jim Cramer last month that “plant-based products are going to replace the animal- based products in the food world within the next 15 years. That’s our mission. That transformation is inevitable.” I label plant-based food products as salad and only a side to a piece of red meat. The numbers concur with $50 billion of animal protein meat sales last year in the United States. Com- pare this with the plant-based “fake” stuff of about $760 mil- lion; that means for every $65 in sales of red meat and poultry, consumers bought $1 of plant-based products. Aligned with meat shortages, whether real or perceived, appliance dealers have experienced sales increases on home freezers for prolonged storage of the hoarded groceries, with many showrooms exhibiting vacant floor space. Along with this, a well-stocked and specialty barbeque and backyard retailer in Wichita, Kan., has seen a huge sales increase in grills and smokers to the point that their sales floor resembles that of the paper goods aisle in the local grocery. This past weekend, our son-in-law, who manages a big-box store in Kansas, recommended we purchase toilet paper, if we can find it, because a second round of shortages is coming. Again, I am perplexed with what appears to be simple panic and subsequent hoarding. Of all the announced symptoms of the coronavirus, extended or numerous trips to the “throne” was not one of them. Possibly another reason is to blame, as reported by the Canadian lumber industry, is the downturn in homebuilding. Demand for dimensional lumber and plywood has decreased and its byproduct from these sawmills is wood pulp – sawdust. The wood pulp is the key component in making paper, and the raw timber is too valuable to devote its entirety to only bathroom tissue. After a weekend trip to my local Home Depot, I might dispute the lack of demand for lumber, as their aisles looked similar to that of the toilet paper shelves at the grocery. After gathering my materials for a long overdue rain gutter installa- tion over my patio, I met with extensive lines at each checkout station in which most shoppers had carts of materials ranging photo from