The meat supply situation has been very fluid with rapid changes. So do we have a potential meat shortage?

Dr. Gregg Rentfrow, University of Kentucky Meats Specialist, said, “Overall total meat sales are down but retail meat sales are through the roof. Meat is selling very quickly in stores. What is pulling it down is the loss in sales to restaurants and foodservice.”

Rentfrow went on to explain that we are starting to see some processing plants shuttered and others not running at full capacity. They do have supplies of product in stock. In pork, there is a Tyson plant in Iowa and a Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls that are closed down as well as some Canadian plants. Smithfield plants in North Carolina are running at full capacity. There is a good supply in storage.

The situation for meat processing plant is very fluid. Several plants in the U.S. and Canada have closed temporarily, however, three have already reopened as of last week. They are operating at a reduced capacity. There is a reserve of about 45 days in storage. Poultry plants have been affected as well, although, the level of automation reduces the number of employees required to operate the plants.

The shift from restaurant and food service to retail is helping with the supply in grocery stores. Due to the difficulties of meeting country of origin labeling laws, American beef has been going directly to consumers and retail sales while Mexican and Canadian beef products have been going to restaurant and food service sales. Farmers that direct market are seeing strong growth in sales and custom meat processors and are booked a couple of months further out than normal. Due to plant closings, some farmers feel they have no market for their pigs and have been considering euthanization. This could cause issues next year as industry dynamics are that it cannot recover quickly.

It is likely that meat sales will slow as we get back to normal due to stockpiling by consumers. Meat will continue to be available although, at times, possibly not the type or cut of meat preferred.

Susan Fox is the Lyon County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.