America’s chicken farmers and processors have a long history of adapting to difficult situations and meeting changing demand to provide a safe, secure food supply and we are confident this time will be no different. However, despite current efforts, the chicken supply chain is going to begin suffering greatly from the unexpected and devastating effects of the COVID-19 outbreak that has seriously impacted livelihoods and food consumption patterns.
As a result of reduced workforce at chicken processing plants, foodservice demand vanishing virtually overnight, and historically high cold storage supply levels, there is the strong potential for delayed or significantly reduced bird placements to family farmers that chicken processors partner with to raise chickens. These farmers are faced with overhead costs and any downtime will bring great financial pressure upon them.
Chicken farmers are paid on pounds produced when a flock reaches market weight. For perspective, an average flock consists of about 100,000 chickens in four separate barns. So if a chicken farmer typically raises about five flocks per year, even missing one flock will result in losing 20 percent of their annual farm income. To put it simply, it is likely farmers will have to raise significantly fewer birds then they planned to in the beginning of March. According to USDA weekly production data, this is already well under way.
These cutbacks are not the fault of the farmers or chicken processors, but instead are merely a reflection of truly unprecedented and trying market conditions due to COVID-19. Chicken companies will do their best to stand by our family farmers during this time, however we are urging USDA to provide targeted aid to these farmers through resources available to the Department and we are urging Congress to include earmarked aid for our farmers in any Phase 4 stimulus package.
American industries that have been deemed essential and critical have exhibited extreme resilience – working to care for, feed, and protect Americans – and are selflessly serving the nation by showing up to work during this time of crisis. While the value of the work by our public health professionals, first responders, and public safety employees is unquestioned, we must also adequately recognize the service of our farmers who wake up every day to protect our food security.
They’ve been helping us make food one thing our families don’t have to worry about right now. It’s time to help them.
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Mike Brown is president of the National Chicken Council