Below are four experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) who are available to discuss various impacts of COVID-19 on the meat industry and meat supply chain. More CALS experts—on various COVID-19-related topics—can be found in lists distributed on Apr. 1 and on Apr. 22.
MEAT SUPPLY CHAIN CHALLENGES
Jeff Sindelar, associate professor and extension meat specialist in the UW–Madison Department of Animal Sciences, is an expert on meat processing, quality, safety, supply chain and consumption. He can discuss challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic on the meat supply chain and the meat industry, including plant closures and slowdowns, and the impacts the situation is having on livestock producers, processors, retailers and consumers.
“The United States maintains the most abundant, safest, and cheapest food supplies in the world and this hasn’t happened by accident. Decades of research, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit has enabled us to enjoy the products from our highly systems-based approach to food production,” says Sindelar. “Right now, our meat supply system is challenged, but it’s important to emphasize that it has an extremely low probability of collapse. Impulse-driven reactions such as over-purchasing meat and poultry products can place additional stress on the system. At this time, it’s extremely important for consumers to remain calm in their purchasing habits and trust in the many people who are working adamantly to find solutions and return things to normalcy.”
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BEEF PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Dan Schaefer, emeritus professor in the UW–Madison Department of Animal Sciences, is an expert in beef production systems, meat quality and rumen microbiology. He is available to discuss U.S. beef cattle production systems, including industry organization, economics, and cattle biology.
“I taught our department’s beef cattle production course from 1981 to 2019. In that span of time, consumers have never needed to be concerned about their supply of food, so nuances came to the forefront—antibiotics, grass-fed, organic, local, cell-cultured meat,” says Schaefer. “Now, the nation’s industry is challenged to keep its doors open for business. The COVID-19 situation is stressful for all involved, including cattle producers, packing plants, distributors, retailers and consumers.”
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IMPACTS ON SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Agricultural markets and food supply chains are complex and vary from product to product. Understanding how the supply of and demand for food will respond to a major shock like COVID-19 requires understanding production processes, supply chain infrastructure and consumer preferences, notes Andrew Stevens, an assistant professor in the UW–Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. And, importantly, there are differences in what we can expect to see in the short-run vs. the medium- and long-runs. Stevens, an expert in applied agricultural and food policy, can discuss how the agricultural and food industries face a number of unique challenges that differentiate them from other sectors of the economy:
- Timing of production processes: Crops take time and space to grow, so farmers are constrained by how quickly they can adjust to changing market forces. Similarly, livestock producers are constrained by the lifecycle dynamics of their animals.
- The role of refrigeration in the food supply chain: Refrigeration is critical for meat, vegetable, fruit, and dairy supply chains. It is also very expensive and constrained in the short-run.
- Changes in consumption patterns: There has been a major shift away from consuming food outside of the home (restaurants, etc.) to consuming more food at home, which differentially affects the demand for different foods. Many vegetable, meat, and dairy products, for example, rely heavily on restaurant demand.
- Labor disruptions: Many high-value foods (meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, etc.) rely heavily on low-wage and/or immigrant labor. Disruptions in this labor market due to COVID-19 concerns and changing immigration policy put additional strain on the food supply chain.
“The agricultural sector is a complex web of producers, processors, transporters, wholesalers, and retailers,” says Stevens. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a massive shock to this supply chain and is already disrupting business as usual. In the short-run, we may see temporary product shortages or unharvested food as markets adjust. In the longer-run, it is still not yet clear what the ultimate impacts of COVID-19 will be.”
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POULTRY PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Ron Kean, faculty associate and extension poultry specialist in the UW–Madison Department of Animal Sciences, is an expert in poultry production and management. He is available to discuss the impact of the pandemic on poultry production systems.
“I have not heard of any plant closures here in Wisconsin, but it’s likely a matter of time,” says Kean. “Some turkey plants have been shut down in Minnesota, and there have been instances of euthanizing broilers on the east coast, due to a lack of processing plant space. So far, the poultry plants don’t seem to have had as many [COVID-19] cases as with some of the red-meat plants, but it may just be a matter of time, geographics, and other factors.
“The numbers of eggs set for future flocks has been cut quite a bit, in an effort to decrease problems in the future. It will take about 10 weeks for this change to get to the processing plants,” he adds. “I think people are expecting consumption from foodservice, restaurants, etc. to remain depressed for a while. If poultry consumption increases rapidly at some point, there could be some shortages, and an increase in prices.”