Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2020 (summary)
COVID-19 Infects Laborforces in U.S. Meat Processing Plants, Disrupting April Production

Since early April, COVID-19 infections of animal processing plant laborforces have disrupted beef, pork, broiler, and turkey production in the United States. The figure below compares preliminary estimated federally inspected April 2020 production levels to those of a year earlier. It is notable that each meat category shows a year-over-year decline. Estimated pork production in April—2.3 billion pounds—fell more than 11 percent below a year earlier, as hog processing plants in several States reduced throughput (with some plants shutting down temporarily) due to COVID-19-related labor shortages. Estimated federally inspected beef production in April, at about 1.8 billion pounds, is almost 21 percent lower than the volume produced in April 2019. COVID-19 contagion of poultry processing plant employees caused year-over-year reductions in broiler and turkey production in April, as well. Estimated April 2020 broiler production—3.27 billion pounds—was 2 percent below production in April 2019, and turkey production fell 8.3 percent to 420 million pounds this year from a year earlier.

Cattle/Beef: While beef production had its strongest levels in early 2020, slaughter levels are expected to restrict beef production for the rest of the year due to COVID-19 challenges at meatpacking facilities. However, slaughter capacity is expected to recover in 2021, and beef production is expected to set a record. Despite strong first-quarter 2020 beef imports, the forecast for the rest of the year was revised lower on tighter expected beef supplies in Oceania. Imports are expected to recover in the second half of 2021. Beef exports in first-quarter 2020 reached record levels, but tighter expected domestic supplies and global economic uncertainty drags down the forecast for rest of 2020. Exports are expected to rebound in 2021, at almost 9 percent higher than 2020. Cattle imports and exports in 2020 are expected to be lower than the previous year but to recover slightly in 2021.

United States Department of AgricultureEconomic Research Service