YOUR TEXAS AGRICULTURE MINUTE
Meat processing plants become prime focus
By Gary Joiner
The COVID-19 focus for U.S. agriculture has shifted to meat processing plants. These facilities are struggling to remain open, because workers are sick with the virus or due to a general labor shortage. More than 20 facilities closed down, some of which are in Texas.
President Trump’s recent executive order will help keep doors open, while also addressing worker safety at these plants.
The impact of the plant closures has been dramatic. Pork processing capacity has been reduced by as much as 20 percent at a certain time. Beef processing capacity has been reduced by as much as 10 percent, and that’s just from the plants that had to close down.
Officials say what’s more difficult to quantify is the reduction in capacity that occurs as plants slow their line speeds in order to implement social distancing within their facilities.
The lower processing capacity has had a significant negative impact on slaughter numbers. A record year for beef and pork production was expected before the spread of COVID-19.
Cattle slaughter has declined by 32 percent from its March high and 27 percent below the same week last year. Hog slaughter has declined by 30 percent from its March high and about 15 percent below the same week in 2019.
That’s the real bottleneck, and we’re seeing the impact in meat cases across the country.
Consumers need to be patient. It will take time for the meat processing plants to ramp up and increase capacity. There’s no need to hoard beef and pork or panic buy at the grocery store. There’s enough to go around, if we’re patient.
There is not a meat shortage in our country. There is plenty of meat in the pipeline. But there is an unprecedented disruption in our food supply chain that will take time to reconnect.
The preceding commentary is brought to you by Texas Farm Bureau, the “Voice of Texas Agriculture.” Called “Your Texas Agriculture Minute,” TFB will issue thought-provoking editorials each week—via print and audio—to spark understanding of agriculture in the Lone Star State and its impact on each and every Texan.
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