Meat production continues to rebound in the United States from its low point when dozens of plants were closed because of COVID-19. However, industry experts say consumer prices are likely going to stay higher than they’re used to, plus it will take months to work through a backlog of millions of pigs and cattle that had nowhere to go for processing.
As of last week, beef, pork, and poultry plants were operating at over 95 percent of 2019 production levels. An Associated Press report says that’s up from 60 percent in April during the height of plant closures and slowdowns.
The steps companies took to protect workers from COVID-19 infections were necessary to keep plants running as smoothly as possible. However, those steps will likely slow production somewhat and keep prices higher at the grocery stores.
Even if plants become more efficient and get back to full capacity, there is typically a lag of several weeks between the time wholesale prices drop and when consumers start to notice the change.
“Don’t expect prices to fall in half just because wholesale prices have declined dramatically,” says Lee Schulz, an Iowa State University livestock economist.
Other steps plants are taking to work through the backlog include more processing on Saturdays, as well as saving time by processing meats in larger cuts.