Report: Beef Supply Chain Running at Pre-Pandemic Levels

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A strong showing by cattle feedlots in July has led to expectations that the beef supply chain is back to running at pre-pandemic levels.

The beef production chain was severely crimped by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. Several major processing facilities temporarily closed or slowed production significantly, leading to a backlog of cattle with nowhere to go.

Feedlots traditionally take ranchers’ cattle at 800 pounds or so, fatten them up to 1,300 pounds and then send them to the processing plants. When the processing plants were knocked out of the chain, feedlots stopped wanting to take expensive cattle with no exit strategy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that cattle placement in feedlots reached nearly 1.9 million head in the month of July. That is the highest number for July since 2011, said John Anderson, the head of the agricultural economics and agribusiness department of University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Bumpers College of Agricultural Food and Life Sciences.

“It certainly does indicate that commercial production is getting back to normal,” Anderson said. “It really is good news for everyone.”

The feedlots taking in a regular amount of cattle is positive, Anderson said, because they would be doing that if there was a worry about the processing capabilities. Of course, a resurgence in positive cases at plants could slam the brakes on the system again.

“If they thought they didn’t have somewhere to go with those cattle at the end of the feeding period, they would not be bringing them in,” Anderson said. “We are moving animals through the supply chain at what looks like normal again. Hopefully, we can maintain that without further disruptions.

“Everyone in the system has done a remarkable job getting back to normal.”