Live weights of broiler chickens produced by the U.S. poultry industry have hit the ceiling imposed by customer requirements, according to Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Frank Sanderson, Jr.

In the company’s second-quarter 2016 earnings call, Sanderson said, “I think the [U.S. broiler chicken industry] for marketing reasons is getting to a point where [it] can’t go up in weights because of customer requirements.”

“We have peaked out on weights for our customers in both tray-pack [chickens] and big birds [for deboning operations],” Sanderson said of his own company, “and I am guessing that the industry is close to that as well.”

Sanderson repeats expectation of lower weights

Sanderson has repeatedly expressed his expectation that broiler weights would cease their upward trend, despite U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reporting that the average weights for young chickens have continued their rise year-over-year in recent months.

USDA’s most-recent Poultry Slaughter report shows average live weights of young chickens at 6.19 pounds in April 2016, up 0.07 pounds in the same month of 2015.

“At the Sanderson Farms Investor Conference last October, I stated that I thought weights were not going to go up this year. I was dead wrong. Weights went up this winter in every weight class, including in fast food, parts and whole birds, tray pack, and big bird deboning operations. I think the mild winter is why the first three classes went up. I think big bird deboners raised weights because more of them went to a 9-pound chicken.”

Woody breast syndrome is a quality issue

While chicken live weights across the industry are expected to fall seasonally due to the less-than-ideal growing conditions of hot summer weather, Sanderson continued in his prediction that weights won’t be up year-over-year in 2017.

He said some U.S. broiler complexes have already begun to back off their production of 9-pound chickens due to problems with “woody breasts,” a condition of white striations in the meat which seem to worsen in larger birds.

“When Sanderson has its investor conference in October [2016], I am going to state again that I believe that weights are not going to go up in 2017,” he said.