In this file:


·         USDA reports tightened meat inventories

US meat inventories have contracted after COVID-19 outbreaks shuttered slaughterhouses – USDA.


·         Red meat production plunges 23% during April amid pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has punctured expectations of record-high red meat and poultry production this year.


·         US meat exports surge as industry struggles to meet demand

·         ‘There’s no shortage’ — Meat pros say there’s plenty available

·         Watch Now: Pandemic leads to meat and poultry shortage, higher prices for region

·         Beef shortage, perhaps; cattle shortage, no



USDA reports tightened meat inventories

US meat inventories have contracted after COVID-19 outbreaks shuttered slaughterhouses – USDA.


The Pig Site

22 May 2020


USDA data shows that US frozen pork inventories fell in April, countering a forecasted rise. Beef inventories dropped more than normal as the global health crisis shut slaughterhouses and spurred grocers to limit customers’ buying.


Reuters reports that about 20 meat plants shut in April 2020 while consumers were stocking freezers during state-imposed lockdowns. President Trump issued an executive order making the plants stay open after meatpackers warned of shortages.


Total pork inventories in cold-storage facilities declined about 2 million pounds to 614.8 million pounds as of 30 April, compared to a month earlier, according to USDA data. Normally supplies increase 27 million pounds from March to April, said Rich Nelson, chief strategist for broker Allendale.


Total beef inventories fell by about 12 million pounds to 490 million pounds, exceeding the average decline of about 6 million pounds from March to April.


"There was a moderate drawdown story for pork," Nelson said. "It was nothing like a catastrophic scare."


Inventories of pork bellies, which are cured into bacon, rose by 2.7 million pounds from March to 80.87 million pounds, according to the USDA. Typically they increase by about 7 million pounds over that period, according to Allendale.


Prices for pork bellies tumbled as restaurants closed dining rooms, but other cuts have become more expensive due to stronger retail demand.


Much of the meat in cold storage is destined for export markets, rather than US grocery stores, analysts said...


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Red meat production plunges 23% during April amid pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has punctured expectations of record-high red meat and poultry production this year.


By Chuck Abbott, Successful Farming - 5/22/2020


U.S. meatpackers ran at roughly three-fourths capacity during April as outbreaks of the coronavirus forced some of the country’s largest meat plants to close temporarily, said the USDA on Thursday. Production is rebounding in May, but the risk of a resurgence of the virus hangs over the industry, said analysts.


Hormel Foods said it had absorbed $20 million in “incremental supply chain costs primarily related to lower production volumes, employee bonuses, and enhanced safety measures” at its plants in the past three months. It said it could chalk up an additional $60 million to $80 million for the second half of the year.


The coronavirus pandemic has punctured expectations of record-high red meat and poultry production this year. Last week, the USDA lowered its 2020 meat forecast by nearly 5 billion pounds, mostly in beef and pork, “as the sector adjusts to COVID-19 and economic uncertainty.”


Packing plants produced 3.86 billion pounds of beef, pork, veal, and mutton during April, 1.1 billion pounds less than in March, a drop of 23%, said the monthly Livestock Slaughter report. The USDA was scheduled to release April poultry data on Friday.


“We’ve shown significant improvement in processing numbers over the past several days,” said Jayson Lusk, a Purdue University meat expert. “In early May, we were running about 40% below 2019, and now we are ‘only’ about 15% below last year’s numbers in beef and pork.” Wholesale meat prices, which spiked as retail supplies of meat tightened, “are coming off some all-time highs. In short, we’re seeing significant progress,” said Lusk.


Cattle slaughter is relatively steady throughout the year, while hog slaughter is highest in fall and winter. “If we have a COVID resurgence for some reason, that could again stress the system’s ability to push through the number of animals,” said Seth Meyer, associate director of the FAPRI think tank...


... “The COVID-19 pandemic has created industry uncertainty as to whether we will experience further interruptions,” said Hormel’s chief executive, Jim Snee...


... Tyson Foods said that 570 employees at its poultry plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina – more than a quarter of the facility’s workforce – have tested positive for COVID-19...





US meat exports surge as industry struggles to meet demand


By Josh Funk, Associated Press

via Aberdeen News (SD) - May 21, 2020


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — U.S. meat exports are surging even as the industry is struggling to meet domestic demand because of coronavirus outbreaks at processing plants that have sickened hundreds of workers and caused companies to scramble to improve conditions.


Although the situation could cause concern that American workers are risking their health to meet foreign demand, experts say it shouldn't because much of the meat sold to other countries is cuts that Americans generally don't eat. And at least one of the four major processors says it has reduced exports during the pandemic.


If companies manage to keep their workers healthy and plants operating, there should be plenty of supply to satisfy domestic and foreign markets, according to industry officials.


“I really feel like the industry is well positioned to serve all of its customers both here and abroad,” said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the industry trade group U.S. Meat Export Federation.


Meat exports, particularly pork exports to China, grew significantly throughout the first three months of the year. This was partly due to several new trade agreements that were completed before the coronavirus outbreak led to the temporary closure of dozens of U.S. meatpacking plants in April and May and to increased absenteeism at many plants that reduced their output.


The Meat Export Federation said pork exports jumped 40% and beef exports grew 9% during the first three months of the year. Chicken exports, meanwhile, grew by 8% in the first quarter. Complete figures weren’t yet available for April, but Agriculture Department figures for the last week of April show that pork exports jumped by 40% as shipments to China and Japan surged and exports to Mexico and Canada remained strong. Beef exports declined by 22% in that last week of April....





‘There’s no shortage’ — Meat pros say there’s plenty available

Meat pros say there’s plenty available


By Jill Moon, The Telegraph (IL)

May 21, 2020


EDWARDSVILLE — While major packing firms closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local meat markets and processors say they are working harder than ever.


On May 7 fifth-generation farmer Andrew Bagley celebrated the first anniversary of Bagley Farms Meat Market, the family business he owns with his wife, Lauren, and his brother and sister-in-law, Adam and Emily Bagley.


Business is booming, both at the store and Bagley Farms where the brothers raise cattle and crops.


“Things for us have been great from a business perspective,” said Andrew Bagley. “But with everyone working their fingers to the bone, that’s different. It’s been busy.”


He said business slowed just momentarily when COVID-19 concerns began in the U.S.


“I think that had a lot to do with people storing up when the news came out,” Bagley said. “Now they’re fed up with high prices. They’re finding non-meat alternative food sources. And I think a contributing factor is some people are going to Missouri to eat out — not a lot, but some.”


He said he watches the U.S. Department of Agriculture Estimated Boxed Beef Cut-out Values released twice daily showing the average packer-level prices at which all cuts of meat are trading. The boxed beef cutout — or BBC — represents the estimated gross value of a beef carcass, based on shipping-term prices paid for individual beef items derived from the carcass.


BBC prices started dropping late last week, he noted.


“It peaked for box beef prices, but it’ll be a long time until it’s back to $200,” he said. “At least it’s in the right direction.”


The attorneys general in 11 Midwest states have asked the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of price fixing among major meat packing companies such as Cargill Meat Solutions (Excel), JBS USA (Swift), National Beef, Tyson, Smithfield Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farm...





Watch Now: Pandemic leads to meat and poultry shortage, higher prices for region


Leif Greiss, Bristol Herald Courier (VA)

May 21, 2020


BRISTOL, Va. — Mountain Empire and Tri-Cities residents preparing to grill this Memorial Day will walk out of stores having paid more for meat than in previous years and may find they can’t buy as much of it as they wanted.


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a shortage of meat and poultry and stores in the region have raised their prices. To keep shelves stocked, many stores have also set limits on how much fresh meat and poultry each customer can buy at one time.


Steven Holloway, head of food operations for Abingdon-based Food City, said what has happened under the pandemic is unlike anything he has seen. At present it doesn’t look like the supply of meat and poultry will start getting back to normal until late June.


Early in the pandemic, stockpiling by panicked shoppers created temporary shortages of meat, but supply issues only got worse. Throughout April major meat processing plants owned by the likes of Smithfield, Tyson, Hormel and JBS USA either cut production or were shuttered as cases among plant workers spiked.


In response to closures and in an effort to prevent shortages of pork, beef, chicken and other meat and poultry types, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April that declared meat processing plants as essential infrastructure that should remain open if possible.


Holloway said with operations at processing plants resuming it is now easier to get certain meat and poultry items. He believes many restaurants reopening may have put strain on meat and poultry suppliers. He said the pandemic has forced Food City to make changes to the way it operates, and these changes will likely stay in place until things are back to normal...





Beef shortage, perhaps; cattle shortage, no


Deanna Nelson-Licking, Tri-State Livestock (SD)

May 21, 2020


The current crisis in our meat processing industry has brought to light many of the problems with the modern, large packing houses and the lack of small custom inspected plants. The big packers are struggling with labor issues, reduced capacity and widespread infection rates, and the small plants are swamped, most of them are booked through the first of the year and are unable to find more workers. There are record numbers of cattle on feed and they are heavier than a year ago, compounded by lower slaughter rates.


John Brown, lifelong meat industry worker and Master Sausage Maker from Libby, Montana, sees the current events as a starting point to change the way meat is harvested and processed. “I was a union certified meat cutter by the time I graduated high school. The beef industry changed, I grew up standing on sawdust, the packing houses were dry, the only place that was wet was the kill floor. If we dropped something it went in the waste bin, now everyone wears rubber boots and what drops can be washed in the sink and thrown back on the belt. They didn’t have these big huge giant farms; small operations raised them until the cattle went to finishing lots shortly before slaughter to be fed grain. We had local sale rings, and the cattle came in by rail and were processed by local packing houses. There was a patchwork of small USDA plants around the state of Washington. They were proud tradesmen, butchers that knew the industry, not an assembly line. Men who cared about what they were doing and did a quality job. Whole carcass butchering provides a cleaner better process, because tradesmen care about their job. Dry-aging beef sucks the moisture off the meat, so they have about a 15-17% shrink which is a good thing. Meat lasts longer, and there is no humidity in the plant.”


Brown worked at IBP and ran the brisket boning line for the work experience. “The plant was wet, I would have to have men wrap towels on brooms to soak up condensation on the ceiling since the USDA wouldn’t allow a plant to open with condensation present that could drip on the meat. The old way was a much cleaner, thoughtful and humane process, in the small plants everybody was like family. We need morality in the industry, morality in business and morality in processing. What Temple Grandin has done to the pre-entry process needs applied to the rest of the plant,” Brown said.


Montana is a self-inspection state with roving USDA inspectors. “We need more USDA inspectors, the small custom plants to come back and USDA inspected kill trucks. We have to go back to the old ways and do it right or go back to the jungle,” said Brown.


Kathryn Miller is a third generation Oklahoma rancher, who also works within the packing industry. She helps small and medium sized packers move product and also is involved in food service. She has a different perspective than many in the industry. “The supply chain is broken, the packers are facing challenges to protect their labor force and find skilled workers. One in four new hires don’t make it a week, they are starting at twenty dollars an hour with a bonus if they stay a month. The fabrication room temperature is less than 34 degrees; it requires standing for long periods of time in cold, damp conditions, making repetitive movements. High school equivalency isn’t necessary, and most major packers operate a program to help their employees receive a GED, and they offer tuition assistance for employees seeking college credit.”


Miller points out that packers now have increased labor costs and PPE costs. Many ranchers and feeders are talking about the $1,000 + profit margins packers appear to be enjoying, which is publicly known because of federal reporting of the price of boxed beef reporting, and fed cattle.


The numbers “thrown around” are gross margins not true profits, she says...