US organic poultry slaughter drops 24% during COVID-19

Organic poultry slaughter dropped by nearly a quarter in the U.S last month, but the fate of nearly 100,000 birds remains unclear.


Organic poultry slaughter dropped by nearly a quarter in the U.S last month, but the fate of nearly 100,000 birds remains unclear.

Data reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows a 24% year-over-year decline in organic poultry slaughter during the month of April, compared to a 3% decline in conventional chicken slaughter. The massive decline should have rippled across the organic sector, where organic broilers remain a key driver of growth. But the signs that should correlate with that kind of decline are so far absent, according to Ryan Koory, an economist with organic trading and analytics firm Mercaris.

Limited processing capacity, triggered by COVID-19, has dented slaughter rates in other sectors, especially conventional beef and pork. But Koory said organic processing facilities haven't experienced the same difficulties as their conventional counterparts — Mercaris has neither seen, nor heard of organic-certified facilities closed due to outbreaks of COVID-19.

“There was one report toward the end of April of a COVID outbreak, but they didn't close the facility,” he said.

There's also no evidence that organic poultry producers have depopulated their flocks, Koory said.

“That just isn't something we're hearing about,” he said. “I've seen reports of euthanizing piglets, and egg layers being euthanized, but haven't heard anything in the organic broiler sector.”

Nor, Koory said, does there appear to be any slowing of sales on the consumer side. If anything, he said, sales of organic poultry seem to be trending upward. The organic sector was less reliant on restaurants, and when customers began eating more meals at home and buying more groceries, sales ticked upward.

Lacking other indicators of a slowdown, Koory said, he suspected the USDA data could be a glitch. “Weird data happens all the time,” he said. “This could be one of those.”

But slaughter data from early May also indicated a slowdown in the organic sector, despite evidence that conventional processing has begun to recover.

Because it's not clear what caused the decline, Koory said it's difficult to say what the data means with respect to either long-term trends, or for downstream industries such as feed production. If the trend does hold, he said, it could have significant implications for organic production across the board, especially organic grain.

“This could have huge implications for how the organic market will look over the next year,” he said.

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