Monday, April 05, 2021

A year after the beginning of the pandemic, signs of recovery and change for the meat industry

Over a year after the pandemic but the U.S., the meat industry is seeing signs of recovery, thanks in large part to government aid and private investment. Since then, many meatpackers have implemented new equipment and protocols meant to protect workers from infection. Meanwhile, a new Agriculture Department program aims to boost that recovery with additional aid. 

"The industry dynamics have changed dramatically during the past year with an infusion of money for cattle and hog producers; government and private investment in smaller, niche packing plants; and improvements for the safety and welfare of workers at the major packing plants," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The supply chain crashed when an overlooked group of workers proved to be one of the most essential workforces in the country. Most major packing plants were put together and expanded piecemeal. They were not designed to allow thousands of employees to simply spread out."

Now, "nearly every plant requires layered personal protection equipment, such as face shields, goggles and plexiglass in common areas such as dividers," Clayton writes. "Another area in plants getting an overhaul now is ventilation at plants, including changes in filtration and air flow throughout plants."

Worker infections caused widespread shutdowns last spring and summer, causing supply backups that still affect the cattle industry. Then-President Trump ordered packing plants to stay open, and cattle producers received nearly $7.17 billion from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs (CFAP 1 and 2), $2 billion more than any other eligible livestock or crops, Clayton notes: "The aid throughout the year eased early panic among producers and others who had projected billions in losses." 

More aid is arriving, Clayton reports: "Starting April 5, USDA's newest aid program, Pandemic Assistance for Producers, will provide cattle producers with a plus-up payment on the CFAP 1 aid that will range from a low of $7 a head for feeder cattle under 600 pounds to a high of $63" for slaughter-ready cattle that fell under the May 14, 2020, inventory deadline for CFAP 1 aid.

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