Farmers plan production increase for meat in ’21
WOODSBORO, Md. — Travis Kreitzer intensively rotates pasture-grazing cows, pigs, sheep and chickens so that the manure that they leave behind fertilizes new fescue, clover, rye and more before they return to graze again.
On 80 acres, Kreitzer’s Good Hope Farmstead is large enough that he can “cautiously” increase meat production for 2021, he said.
Kreitzer said he intends to increase his beef production by four head, have about nine more lambs and six more hogs processed in the coming year.
“As we’re producing more, we’ll probably increase online orders by 20 percent this winter,” Kreitzer explained. “I think next year, if the pandemic is going on, we ought to see a total 30 percent increase in sales for the year.
“It’s all so new,” Kreitzer said. “Before all of this happened, we were still growing ourselves.
“Now we’re trying to predict normal growth and what’s happened since the pandemic.”
Kreitzer’s production plans are in keeping with USDA projections and are intended to accommodate the consumer shift from restaurant dining to grocery shopping for at home meals — a shift that, at its March peak, introduced and reintroduced consumers who were desperately seeking fresh meats to local food sources such as his.
The USDA in May announced that it expected slaughter capacity to recover in 2021, for beef production to set a record and for poultry production to resume growth and return to operating efficiency.
In November the USDA raised its total 2021 red meat and poultry forecast with the expectation that broiler production offsets a reduction in anticipated pork production.
Pork, while it enjoyed a favorable 2020, is to experience more expensive feed costs, according to the USDA.
As much as pork set 2020 monthly records and as busy as some local producers say they were as a result of supplementing large producer inventories and filling in when those same producers experienced COVID-19 related meat packing closings, USDA slaughter information for January through October doesn’t soar through the roof.
Commercial red meat production, at 15,159,300 head weighing in at 46.1 billion pounds, is slightly more than 1.4 percent above what it was for the first 10 months of 2019 whereas production for all of 2019 increased by 3 percent over the year prior to it, according to the USDA.
Poultry production for January through September was up 1 percent as compared with 2019, according to the USDA. Some 703 million poultry slaughtered in the Mid-Atlantic states provided for 4.7 billion pounds of meat, USDA information shows.
Fresh meat accounted for around 60 percent of the growth in chicken demand between March and May 2020, and products labeled “antibiotic-free, “natural” and “hormone-free” proved most popular, Meagan Nelson, an account executive with global research, ratings and data leader Nielsen told attendees of a June 20 WATT Media Chicken Summit. Consumers also reverted to breast meat, legs and drumsticks whereas they previously expressed a preference for dark meats, Nelson noted.
Kreitzer and C.J. Isbell of Keenbell Farm in Rockville, Va., were among the Mid-Atlantic meat producers who benefited when COVID-19 sent shoppers in search of alternative food sources.
“What we previously sold in a month, we sold on a Friday afternoon,” Isbell said.
Isbell said that, based on demand, he could double the 10 to 25 cows and pigs that he sends to slaughter from his 175-acre farm.
He has because of processor backlogs instead requested increased processing dates and more items processed on those dates so that he achieves a “modest increase” through 2021.
“The waiting list is typically three to four months,” Isbell said. “Now, I’m scheduled for all of 2021.
“Everyone is booking days to try to secure their supply.”
Internet sales were so favorable at Good Hope Farmstead that Kreitzer said overall sales were up from last year even with farmers market sales declines.
Nelson suggested that the industry might not be completely back to normal until June 2021. She recommended establishing price promotions, resolving supply chain disruptions and adapting to Internet purchase trends such as same-day delivery.
Nelson also reminded the attendees at Chicken Summit that the pandemic has changed the popular perception of safe and healthy choices and that consumer needs are changing because of health or economic circumstances.
The Consumer Beef Tracker, a continuous consumer survey that helps monitor consumer attitudes and perceptions about beef, reflects similar information.
Taste, price, convenience, health and safety are the most important factors that consumers consider when choosing a meal, information from the Consumer Beef Tracker shows.
Consumers feel safer about the food that they buy at a grocery store and eat at home, and they place more responsibility on the part of the supply chain for insuring food safety than they do themselves, according to the Beef Tracker.
Nearly two-thirds of the consumers, or 65 percent, in a 2019 Food Marketing Institute Trends report said that having accurate information displayed was an important attribute in selecting their primary grocery destination.
Nearly half of the respondents, or 48 percent, advised that being open and honest about business practices was another important attribute.
The FMI, with transparency solutions provider Label Insight, also found that 75 percent of consumers reported that they would switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information beyond what’s provided on the label.
Some 80 percent said that greater transparency leads to loyalty, 54 percent said that they would pay more for such products and 53 percent purchasing groceries on the Internet particularly find it either challenging or extremely challenging to make sure that it meets their diet and wellness goals, the Label Insight and FMI research showed.
Charlie Arnot, the CEO of The Center for Food Integrity and president of Look East, a consulting company with offices in Missouri and Iowa, at the June Chicken Summit suggested evaluating and prioritizing what matters most to the company in order to establish sustainability profiles while considering the potential effects of changes on the operation and responding to requests with regard to specific practices.
The Virginia Beef Council, for its part, intends to focus 2021 marketing programs and partnerships on what Executive Director Stephanie Weiss wrote include “continuing to drive beef as the protein of choice for Virginia families while seeking the industry’s transparency and consumer trust.”
VBC priorities include educating health professionals and influencers as well as K-12 students about beef and beef production, including nutrient value and sustainability, and sharing the positive story of beef cattle production and animal care, safety, sustainability and nutrition with consumers, council information shows.
The Virginia Beef Council provides its marketing services with money that cattle producers pay into a Beef Checkoff program. The council in 2020 had to quickly pivot its marketing efforts into virtual programs versus in person events, Weiss wrote in an e-mail.
A “United We Steak” advertising campaign on radio, billboard, YouTube and more reached more than 2 million people, while a beef advocacy competition for agriculture teachers and students that was announced via social media and shared as part of remote classes led to an increase of 64 program participants, as compared with 16 last year, council information shows.
The council also made its Virginia beef directory more easily accessible to web users.
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