Processing plants experience production boost
The region’s poultry processing plants are boosting production due to the coronavirus, and growers could see shorter waits between flocks in the future as a result, industry experts said last week.
Perdue’s Milford, Del., plant is running six days a week, said Holly Porter, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. The integrator briefly shut the plant down March 30 after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. The two employees were ordered to quarantine for 14 days, the plant was scrubbed clean and it was scheduled to reopen March 31.
Meat sales surged nearly 80 percent in mid-March after consumers rushed to grocery stores to stock up on protein and other staples before hunkering down at home during government-mandated lockdowns designed to halt the spread of the deadly virus. As of April 2, the United States had nearly 190,000 confirmed cases of infection, and nearly 4,000 deaths. The country has lost 10 million jobs in just two weeks, a historic blow to the national and global economy.
Fresh chicken sales over four weeks ending March 15 were up about 20 percent, according to the National Chicken Council, a Washington, D.C., trade association that represents the boiler chicken industry. Poultry production has also increased an estimated 10 percent.
“The demand is there. The grocery store shelves seem empty,” Porter said. “We’ve got capacity. We’ve got processing plants. We’ve got chicken.”
At the nine processing plants across the Eastern Shore, some companies have begun taking the temperature of all plant employees before they begin shifts in an effort to halt the virus’s spread. The poultry industry is more prepared than the larger economy for viral breakouts due to its experience with other contagions such as avian influenza, she said.
“This is an industry that already has a lot of the biosecurity-type things in mind. Food is essential,” Porter said. “The work that farmers are doing is essential, yet, at the same time, I think everyone needs to do everything they need to do to stay healthy, stay safe.”
The effect on poultry growers, for now, is likely to be minimal, said Jonathan Moyle, a poultry expert with the University of Maryland Extension, but a coronavirus breakout inside the plants forcing production prolonged shutdowns would be a worst-case scenario.
One new concern among agricultural officials has been making sure farmers, plant workers and others along the food supply chain are free to work.The University of Maryland Extension posted sample work permits that can be printed and filled out and carried in the event that an agricultural worker is approached by state authorities. Those forms can be accessed at https://extension.umd.edu/learn/covid-19-resources.
But if consumers continue buying up poultry, farmers need to be ready for shorter waits between flocks, Porter said.
“It’s part of the reason we’re really encouraging growers to prepare sooner than later just in case there’s the possibility of being able to get birds back in sooner,” she said.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925