June 30, 2021

Levels of US meat, poultry in cold storage fell in end-May, according to USDA report



The latest Cold Storage report from United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service shows depressed levels of red meat and poultry, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.


The monthly report shows the end-of-month volume of commodities in freezer storage throughout the United States. It covers most commodities that require cold transport, from nuts and fruits and vegetables, to dairy and meat.


At the end of May, total cold storage stocks of meat and poultry (excluding duck) came in at slightly above two billion pounds. This is approximately 190 million pounds, or 9%, below a year ago.


All meat and poultry categories showed a year-over-year decline, with chicken declining the most. Total levels of red meat and poultry have been down since the height of the pandemic last year when packing plants were severely disrupted by COVID-19, leading to a decline in production and consumer panic buying.


Total levels of animal protein followed the typical seasonal pattern through the rest of 2020 but began to diverge in February 2021.


Total beef in cold storage was reported at 414 million pounds at the end of May. This is just over three million pounds below May 2020, amounting to a 1% year-over-year decline. This is mostly driven by an eight-million-pound drop in boneless beef in storage, as bone-in beef increased by over four million pounds. Beef in cold storage has largely remained immune to pandemic disruptions over the last year, maintaining its overall levels while following typical seasonal patterns.


At the start of the pandemic, pork in cold storage dropped significantly and has not recovered. However, since May last year, pork has followed typical seasonal patterns without experiencing any more declines, but also not rebuilding its levels either. Total pork in cold storage was reported at 461 million pounds, a drop of just under seven million pounds from last year.


The overall declines in red meat and poultry were mostly driven by chicken, with 730 million pounds of the protein in cold storage, according to the report. This equates to a drop of nearly 130 million pounds, or 15%, from last year. While this was actually an increase over last month, there was a counter seasonal decline over first five months of this year compared to recent years.


The largest driver of the decline in chicken levels compared to 2020 is in another category, which dropped by 85 million pounds, or 23%. Other notable declines were in breast meat, which decreased by nearly 15 million pounds, and thigh meat, which dropped almost 20 million pounds, or 60%. Drumsticks jumped by seven-million-pounds (24%), while chicken paws increased by 55%, or 12 million pounds. With a nearly 20% decline from last year, chicken wings have made headlines over the last several months.


Wings have been experiencing a spectacular price run, which has been squeezing national chains that cater largely to buffalo-style wings. In the second half of 2020, wholesale wing prices began an upward trend that took off in 2021, resulting in spectacularly high chicken wing prices. These prices have backed off slightly in the last few weeks, but remain nearly 65% above pre-pandemic levels.

- American Farm Bureau Federation