Meat production to rebound sharply after coronavirus slowdown – USDA

Covid-19 infections of workers at U.S. packing plants forced declines in red meat and poultry production during April with beef production hit the hardest, said USDA economists on Monday. Disruptions will be felt for the rest of the year, but meat production in 2021 is forecast to rise nearly 4 percent higher than this year due to recovery in all major types of meat.

Beef production, for example, is forecast record-large at 27.5 billion pounds in 2021, up 6 percent from this year, while pork and chicken meat output would notch solid increases, said the monthly Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook produced by the Economic Research Service. Pork production would rise by 3 percent, to 28 billion pounds and broiler production by nearly 3 percent, to roughly 45 billion pounds. Turkey production, at 5.9 billion pounds, would be 1 percent higher.

“Since early April, Covid-19 infections of animal processing plant labor forces have disrupted beef, pork, broiler, and turkey production in the United States,” said the livestock outlook. Beef production of 1.8 billion pounds in April fell 21 percent from a year earlier. Pork was down by 11 percent, to 2.3 billion pounds and poultry production of 3.27 billion pounds was 2 percent lower.

Beef production will be hindered for the rest of the year “due to Covid-19 challenges at meatpacking facilities,” said the USDA. “The virus will likely constrain (pork) processing throughput to some degree into 2021.” Poultry production will be lower this year than in 2019 because of “slower processing volumes…as well as expectations of weakness in demand.”