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US pork production returning to normality after COVID-19 closures

15th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

US pork capacity is returning to normality as plants slowly increase operations following the debilitating COVID-19 closures, according to the USDA.

Smithfield FoodsThe USDA has announced that, as of June 9, pork facilities are functioning at 95% of their average capacity compared with 2019, as plants increase production.

This is in stark contrast to the situation at the beginning of May, when, according to the National Pork Producers Council, pork processing capacity was down nearly 40%, as plants struggled with COVID-19 cases amongst factory staff.

Some of the world's biggest pork producers, including Smithfield Foods (pictured) and Tyson Foods, were forced to close plants as thousands of abattoir workers across the US tested positive for the virus during April and May. 

Pork production for April was down 11% year-on-year as a result. The upturn in production is, in part, down to president Donald Trump’s executive order on the April 28 for meat plants to stay open.

"However, numerous reports suggest that US meat plants are still suffering with COVID-19 cases," AHDB analyst Heather Clark said. 

Recently, US lean hog futures have fallen despite an increase in slaughter pace, as plants begin to tackle the backlog of pigs that built up during plant closures. The USDA’s estimated pig slaughter figure for the week ending June 10 stood at 1,339,000 head, up 7% from the week before but 6% below last year.

Follow the money!

In a recent market commentary, Genesus president-CEO Jim Long said higher slaugher numbers were 'a positive sign that US plants are getting closer to the new normal in the coronavirus situation.

Packers certainly have the incentive to push harvest numbers, with gross margins currently estimated at $70 (£56), he suggested. "Harvest numbers have recovered faster than many predicted, obviously phenomenal profit margin motivated packers to get things going. What’s the saying “Follow the money!”