COVID-19-related labor force absences in beef packing facilities significantly impact record pace of beef production

This line chart shows weekly federally inspected beef production from January 2014-April 25, 2020.

Beef production in the first quarter of 2020 set a first-quarter record. Even as retail demand for beef increased in late March as consumers prepared to shelter in place, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that beef held in cold storage at the end of March 2020 was 11 percent above last year and 2 percent above the previous month. Since its peak in late March, federally inspected beef production fell almost 32 percent through the week ending April 25 as the rate of cattle slaughter declined at several beef packing facilities. The slowdown in cattle slaughter limited beef production at these facilities where operations temporarily closed or shifts were reduced due to labor force absences caused by the spread of COVID-19. At a time when cattle slaughter numbers increase seasonally, cattle slaughter rates for the week ending April 25 were down 28 percent year-over-year. As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly, the Economic Research Service continues to closely monitor the latest USDA data and industry news. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook report from April 2020 and is updated using data from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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