The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Cold Storage Report shows animal-protein levels are still impacted by COVID-19. The monthly report, provided by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, shows the end-of-month volume of commodities in freezer storage throughout the United States. An important market-moving report, it covers most commodities that require cold transport – ranging from nuts to fruits and vegetables, to dairy and meat.
All meat, poultry in cold storage – At the end of February, total cold-storage stocks of meat and poultry – excluding duck – came in at 2.12 billion pounds, about 330 million pounds or 13 percent less than a year ago. All meat and poultry aggregate categories except beef showed year-over-year declines in volumes. Pork and chicken led the way with an almost-160-million-pound year-over-year decline for each protein. Since the end of May 2020 cold storage for meat and poultry has run at less than previous years’ levels, even though slaughter has mostly recovered from the pandemic disruptions and greater weights pushed production to more than previous levels. Figure 1 shows that since the initial drop in cold-storage levels in May 2020, meat and poultry in storage has largely followed seasonal trends – except for this most recent report, which showed a slight decline instead of the typical seasonal bump.
Beef, chicken in cold storage – There was a similar decrease in cold-storage levels in May for beef and chicken. But some of that was in line with normal seasonal declines – in beef’s case – and both have recovered somewhat. During fourth-quarter 2020 we saw an increase in the levels of beef in cold storage, resulting in a buildup that ran counter to typical seasonal trends. The report shows a decline during the past month but this is a record level for beef in cold storage at the end of February. The latest report has beef in cold storage at 510 million pounds – 16 million pounds or 3 percent more than 2020. The increase was mostly driven by increasing volumes of boneless beef.
As with other proteins, the volume of chicken in cold storage declined in May 2020. But it largely stayed at more than previous years’ levels until August as a result of a slow replenishing of the stocks relative to a normal fall buildup. Chicken stocks have been in decline since October, with a dramatic counter seasonal decline in the latest report. Total chicken in cold storage came in at about 770 million pounds – more than 155 million pounds or 17 percent less than 2020. The decline is a major contributor to the decline in all meat and poultry from 2020.
Pork in cold storage – Pork was the primary driver of the overall decline of meat and poultry in cold storage this past summer. The protein posted a massive decrease of almost 150 million pounds in May alone; there’s been little progress in replenishing its stores. Several factors contributed to that. In the early summer animal slaughter struggled dramatically, with the first week of May marking the worst point in hog slaughter for 2020. With reduced pork supplies available when restaurants were reopening in some parts of the country and consumers emptying grocery-store shelves, there was a drawdown in pork in cold storage. After supply began to recover, the lack of replenishment hinted at stronger movement through retail and export channels.
After the initial decline pork stocks in cold storage largely followed seasonal trends, with a typical decline in fourth-quarter 2020. At the end of February, the USDA reported 491 million pounds of pork in cold storage, a decrease of almost 160 million pounds or 24 percent from 2020. All pork in cold storage has declined almost across the board, but the decline is not equal across primals. At 47 million pounds and 43 million pounds less than 2020, respectively, pork in the “other” category – variety meats, picnics and unclassified pork – and ribs have declined the most. Those are followed by bellies, which decreased almost 36 million pounds from the past year, a dramatic drop of almost 50 percent.
The USDA’s latest cold-storage report shows the animal-protein supply chain still struggling with the impacts of COVID-19. At the end of February total cold-storage stocks of meat and poultry – excluding duck – came in at 2.12 billion pounds, about 330 million pounds or 13 percent less than a year ago. Most meat and poultry aggregate categories showed year-over-year declines in volume, with pork and chicken leading the way at almost 160 million pounds less than 2020 for each category. Beef posted a monthly best for the report, showing a 3 percent increase as compared to 2020, but a 2 percent decrease from the previous month. Pork bellies registered significant decline from the past year, coming in almost 50 percent less than year-ago levels.
Michael Nepveux is an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Market Intel. Visit www.fb.org/market-intel for more information.