ERS Charts of Note
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Thursday, February 15, 2024
The volume of U.S. meat exports in major categories is projected to grow through 2033, according to USDA long-term projection data. Rising incomes abroad and a moderately declining real exchange rate of the U.S. dollar against the currencies of major agricultural trade partners lend support to U.S. red meat and poultry exports. Notably, by 2028, pork exports are set to exceed exports of broiler chickens for the first time since 1976. Steady growth in U.S. pork production, driven by a combination of increasing slaughter weights, rising pigs per litter, and higher inventories, is projected to support rapid growth in exports. New environmental policies in the European Union (EU) are expected to impact regional pork production and reduce growth of EU’s exports, enhancing U.S. competitiveness. U.S. pork exports are projected to increase 34 percent from an expected 6.95 billion pounds in 2024 to a projected 9.34 billion pounds by 2033. By 2026, U.S. pork exports are expected to surpass the previous record of 7.28 billion pounds set in 2020, when import demand in China spiked at the height of China’s African swine fever epidemic. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves article, U.S. Pork Export Volumes Projected to Surpass Chicken in the Next Decade, February 2024.
Thursday, November 2, 2023
Just in time for the 2023 holiday season, wholesale prices of whole frozen turkeys are declining. Prices for frozen whole hens—the birds typically served for holiday dinners—averaged $1.27 per pound in August 2023. Prices dropped further to $1.25 per pound in September, down 43 cents from a year earlier, and the lowest monthly average price since July of 2021. The price reprieve comes after an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in 2022 resulted in major losses for the commercial turkey flock. Turkey production fell 6 percent to 5.222 billion pounds in 2022, down from about 5.558 billion in 2021, and prices rose to historic highs. The outbreak persisted for more than a year, winding down in April 2023. Even as the outbreak continued in the spring, turkey production had already begun to recover from the mid-2022 low point, when depopulation resulted in sharply lower turkey numbers. Since April 2023, production has been above the previous year’s levels, partly because birds were being slaughtered at heavier weights. Detections of HPAI in commercial turkey flocks in early October 2023 are not expected to have a major effect on the availability of turkeys in the 2023 holiday season. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, September 2023.
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Cage-free hens, which unlike caged hens are free to roam during the laying cycle, comprise a growing percentage of the U.S. egg-laying flock. The cage-free flock has grown as States have passed and enacted legislation banning confinement of hens and as multiple retailers and food service providers have pledged to only source eggs from cage-free operations. Additional State bans are planned to take effect between 2023 and 2026. According to the USDA, Monthly Cage-Free Shell Egg report, the cage-free egg-laying flock (including certified organic hens) increased by more than 10.5 million hens in the first 6 months of 2023. As a result, cage-free hens increased as a proportion of the total U.S. laying flock, expanding from 36 percent in January to 38 percent in June. A closer look at USDA’s data reveals that the nonorganic cage-free flock accounted for most of this increase, while the organic egg-laying flock accounted for a smaller share of growth. The same report estimates cage-free hens’ productivity. Starting in late 2021, cage-free lay rates have been moving mostly above or at similar levels to the lay rates in the overall table egg-laying flock, a departure from the previous trend. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, August 2023.
Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Wholesale egg prices reached record highs in 2022 after avian flu resulted in significant reductions in egg-laying flocks. Avian flu, also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza, is a disease that spreads rapidly in birds and poultry and is often lethal. Cumulative losses attributable to the disease amounted to more than 43 million egg-laying hens. At the height of the disease, in the last weeks of December 2022, weekly egg inventories were 29 percent lower than at the beginning of the year, and prices reached a high of $5.37 per dozen. With no new outbreaks reported in 2023, the size of the egg-laying flock has gradually increased since late 2022, and egg inventories have been steadily recovering. In turn, wholesale prices have fallen sharply, reaching $0.89 per dozen in the first week of May 2023 after a seasonal increase in the weeks leading up to Easter. As of the week ending June 30, 2023, egg inventories were about 24 percent higher than the lowest 2022 values. During the same week, the average price was $1.23 per dozen, about 77 percent lower than the highest average weekly price in 2022. During the summer months, demand for eggs tends to level off as people bake less often. As a result, minimal fluctuation in wholesale egg prices is expected during this period. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, June 2023. See also the ERS Chart of Note, Avian influenza outbreaks reduced egg production, driving prices to record highs in 2022, published in January 2023.
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Frozen wholesale turkey breast prices climbed abruptly in response to the 2022 avian flu outbreak, a disease that led to sharply reduced poultry inventories. Before the outbreak started in February 2022, both frozen whole bird (hen) and wholesale turkey breast prices had been increasing gradually. Cumulative losses because of avian flu surpassed 7 million turkeys, and breast prices peaked at $2.98 per pound in the week ending October 7, 2022. Prices remained elevated for the remainder of the year. Once reports of new outbreaks slowed in mid-December 2022, whole turkey hen prices leveled off. At the same time, breast prices declined, averaging $2.34 per pound in the week ending April 28, 2023. This is $0.32 higher than a similar week in 2022, but down $0.64 from the peak price last year. Divergence in prices between frozen turkey breast meat and whole bird prices is, in part, explained by seasonality; demand for whole birds is much more seasonal than wholesale demand for turkey breast meat. Turkey breasts are more versatile than whole hens. At 4-8 pounds, turkey breasts can be sold directly at the retail level or used in deli meats and other processed products. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2023.
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Retail prices for various red meats, poultry, and egg products fluctuate and are influenced by various economic factors, including inflation. However, the protein content of animal products—a physical characteristic associated with products of animal origin—is fixed, allowing for dollar value per gram of protein comparisons. Between 2019 and 2022, the retail price per gram of protein for a number of animal products trended higher with inflation. Despite increasing in dollar value, the relative rankings of those selected products were mostly unchanged. During 2022, successive Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreaks adversely affected the U.S. egg supply. Decreases in supply combined with strong egg demand pushed retail egg prices to record levels. As egg prices surged in 2022 and early 2023, the cost per gram of protein rankings began to shift. On a per gram of protein basis, eggs were competitively priced with boneless chicken breasts and pork chops by October 2022. By December 2022, eggs were on par with ground beef. In February, eggs were still one of the most expensive sources of protein among the selected animal products at 5.7 cents per gram of protein. This comes despite a 12.8-percent drop from the January peak of 6.4 cents. Historically, eggs and chicken legs have been the two lowest cost sources of protein among red meats, poultry, and egg products. Between 2019 and 2021, eggs were the least expensive source of protein in 20 out of 36 months. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook: February 2023.
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Retail prices for chicken wings have been trending lower in recent months and in time for national sporting events such as the upcoming Super Bowl and the college basketball championship tournaments (“March Madness”). Previously, a combination of limited supplies and strong demand led to a historic runup in wholesale and retail prices. Wholesale chicken wing prices reached a peak of $3.25 per pound in late May 2021, but retail prices continued to climb. At the start of the 2022 March Madness basketball tournament, the national average retail feature price (prices advertised in grocery flyers) was estimated at $4.29 per pound. Nearly a year later and just ahead of the 2023 Super Bowl and basketball tournament, the national average feature price is down nearly $1.70 per pound to $2.62 (price as of January 13). Increased production has boosted volumes of chicken wings in cold storage, so wholesale prices have fallen even further than retail prices. The average wholesale price in December 2022 was 89 cents per pound, down more than $2.50 per pound from the 2021 peak. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook: January 2023.
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)—a disease infecting birds and poultry—struck egg-laying hens throughout 2022. As a result of recurrent outbreaks, U.S. egg inventories were 29 percent lower in the final week of December 2022 than at the beginning of the year. By the end of December, more than 43 million egg-laying hens were lost to the disease itself or to depopulation since the outbreak began in February 2022. Losses were spread across two waves: from February to June (30.7 million hens) and from September to December (12.6 million hens). On constrained supplies, wholesale egg prices (the prices retailers pay to producers) were elevated throughout the year. The HPAI recurrences in the fall further constrained egg inventories that had not recovered from the spring wave. Moreover, the latest outbreak wave came at a point when the industry seasonally adjusts the egg-laying flocks to meet the increasing demand for eggs associated with the winter holiday season. Lower-than-usual shell egg inventories near the end of the year, combined with increased demand stemming from the holiday baking season, resulted in several successive weeks of record high egg prices. The average shell-egg price was 267 percent higher during the week leading up to Christmas than at the beginning of the year and 210 percent higher than the same time a year earlier. During the last week of 2022, inventory sizes started to rise, and prices fell. Going forward, wholesale prices are expected to decrease as the industry moves past the holiday season and continues rebuilding its egg-laying flocks. This chart first appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: December 2022.
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
U.S. residents gobble up a lot of turkey each year at Thanksgiving. In anticipation of the holiday, producers raise turkeys and place inventories into cold storage throughout the year, with inventories often reaching peak levels in August. August 2022 storage data indicated that producers prioritized building up supplies of whole hens in time for Thanksgiving despite an outbreak of avian flu in 2022 that set back overall turkey production relative to the previous year. While production of turkey for meat in 2022 was forecast in November to be 7 percent lower than in 2021, total turkey meat in cold storage at the end of August 2022 was 1 percent higher than the same time last year. At the same time, August cold stocks of whole hens, the birds typically served for Thanksgiving dinner, were more than 12 percent higher than the same time last year at 114.4 million pounds, but below the 5-year average. August also marks the latest date by which a turkey chick can mature in time for Thanksgiving. August placements of turkey chicks were 2 percent above the 5-year average, indicating producers were working to make up for lost production earlier in the year. As is typical, September stocks were lower than August’s, falling to 105.4 million pounds but remained nearly 9 percent higher than in September 2021. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: October 2022.
Thursday, September 22, 2022
The stay-at-home orders implemented during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the U.S. meat and poultry industries as consumers shifted from purchasing food-away-from-home (FAFH) to food-at-home (FAH). In the weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the volume of meat sold in grocery stores fluctuated modestly from between 3 percent below to 8 percent above 2019 sales. When the WHO declared a global pandemic the week ending March 15, 2020, the quantity of meat sold at grocery stores increased sharply to 75 percent above that week’s 2019 sales volume. Meat sales reached their pandemic peak the following week at 84 percent above 2019 sales. This increase in retail meat sales was consistent with overall consumer patterns in March–April 2020, when restaurant closures led to a surge in FAH sales relative to 2019 as FAFH sales fell. After the peak, weekly meat purchases slowed yet remained roughly 30 to 40 percent above 2019 sales for most weeks until mid-May. Sales may have slowed partly because consumers had stocked up on meat supplies in the previous weeks and because FAFH expenditures rose as COVID-related restrictions were lifted. For the remainder of 2020, total weekly sales of meat at retail remained higher than weekly 2019 sales for most weeks. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 working paper, “COVID-19 and the U.S. Meat and Poultry Supply Chains,” published February 3, 2022.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
The return of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in 2022 has affected poultry sectors, including commercial flocks of broilers (chickens raised for meat), egg-laying hens, and turkeys. In the turkey industry, 5.4 million turkeys have been depopulated because of HPAI exposure. This is equivalent to about 2.5 percent of all turkeys that were commercially slaughtered for meat in 2021. While HPAI outbreaks in commercial facilities have diminished, losses that occurred in the spring have affected USDA’s turkey production forecasts for the remainder of 2022. HPAI’s impact on production is expected to be most significant in the second and third quarters of 2022. Second-quarter production is forecast at 1.29 billion pounds, about 8 percent below the same quarter in 2021. Similarly, third-quarter production is forecast to be about 6 percent below the same period in 2021. The industry starts to raise young birds in July for its November production. USDA projects turkey production to rebound close to previous year levels by the fourth quarter, which includes the Thanksgiving holiday. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2022 and has been updated with June 2022 data.
Friday, May 13, 2022
On February 8, 2022, the first case of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since 2015 was detected in a commercial turkey operation in Indiana. Soon thereafter, HPAI cases were confirmed at commercial operations growing broilers (chickens grown for meat), turkeys, and egg-layers. Because HPAI can spread quickly, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) depopulates flocks at operations where infections have been detected. Though the outbreak spread slowly in February, the number of HPAI cases increased rapidly in March, just ahead of Easter, when U.S. egg producers often expand their flocks to meet the demand for the upcoming holiday. As of May 2, HPAI outbreaks have been reported in 164 commercial poultry operations, including 18 egg-laying facilities. Commercial egg-laying hens represent a majority of the birds affected. On April 1, the U.S. table-egg layer flock was estimated at 305.2 million, reflecting, in part, the 16.9 million birds lost to HPAI in March 2022. APHIS reported that an additional 10.7 million layers were affected in April 2022. As of May 2, more than 29 million layers had been lost to HPAI. During the largest U.S. HPAI outbreak, in 2014–15, the industry lost 43 million egg layers. At the time the first major cases of the 2022 outbreak in commercial egg layers were confirmed, flock sizes were already smaller than in previous years, including their 2017–19 pre-pandemic levels. This chart first appeared in USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, April 2022.
Friday, March 11, 2022
Chicken wings are a popular snack in the United States, especially during seasonal sporting events like the Super Bowl and the national college basketball championships. Their popularity as a takeout food during the early months of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic depleted inventories to their lowest since 2012. Wholesale chicken wing prices began climbing in 2020 as cold storage levels swiftly declined due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. At the end of January 2021, chicken wing inventories in cold storage were 27 percent lower than in January 2020. Wholesale prices were 180 percent higher in April 2021 than a year earlier. It was the largest year-over-year percent increase, coinciding with the largest percent decrease in cold storage levels in 2021. Wholesale wing prices peaked at $3.25 per pound in May of 2021, the same month that cold stocks of wings began a recovery that continued through the rest of 2021. As wing stocks in cold storage increased in late 2021, wholesale prices fell—while remaining above year-ago levels. In January 2022, wholesale wing prices averaged $2.68 per pound, 24 cents higher than in January 2021, but down 49 cents from the 2021 peak. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, February 2022.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Demand for table eggs tends to increase when holiday gatherings and cold weather encourage home baking and cooking. In accordance, wholesale table egg prices—the prices retailers pay to producers for eggs—tend to increase ahead of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Leading up to the 2021 holiday season, however, wholesale prices of table eggs in the United States have fallen as effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)-linked flock adjustments linger. In normal years, producers anticipate seasonal demand by adjusting the size of the table-egg laying flocks and the rate at which they produce eggs. In 2020, COVID-19-related disruptions in the demand for eggs led producers to reduce flock sizes. Flock sizes have slowly rebuilt since the summer of 2020 but remain smaller than the same time in 2019. However, the younger flocks produce more eggs per hen. The higher productivity can offset the effects of the small flock size and support increased production. At the beginning of October 2021 the size of the U.S. laying flock was just above the October 2020 levels and the rate of lay was 1.1 percent higher. This productivity bump is predicted to support about a 1 percent increase in October 2021 table egg production compared with a year ago, leading to a 9.6 percent price reduction compared to October 2020. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published November 2021.
Monday, November 1, 2021
Remembering to defrost the turkey might not be the only challenge families face as they try to get that perennial centerpiece onto the Thanksgiving table this year. As of August 31, 2021, inventories of frozen whole turkeys and turkey parts were 24 percent lower than 3-year average volumes. Stocks of frozen turkey meat typically follow a seasonal pattern, building throughout the year until the fall, when retailers prepare to meet holiday demand. In 2021, the seasonal build-up was less pronounced than usual, and stock volumes appear to have peaked before starting an earlier-than-normal decline. At the end of August 2021, 428.1 million pounds of turkey meat were in cold storage, a 19-percent decrease from the same month last year, and a decline of about 7 million pounds from the end of July 2021. Stocks are lower partly because production of turkeys is lower than average this year. At 474.2 million pounds, August 2021 turkey production was mostly unchanged from the same time in 2020 but below the 3-year average, in part a result of high feed costs. August placements of turkey chicks, down about 4 percent from the 3-year average, are dampening expectations for both turkey production and stocks. August marks the latest date by which a turkey chick can mature in time to be harvested for Thanksgiving. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, October 2021.
Friday, June 11, 2021
As restaurants gradually return to regular operations after more than a year of capacity constraints related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may find challenges trying to stock enough chicken and chicken wings to meet growing demand. Broiler (chicken) production in the first quarter of 2021 was down 3 percent from a year earlier, while stocks of chicken meat in cold storage are at record lows. In combination, these conditions create low chicken availability at a time when demand is building. Broiler meat in cold storage at the end of March totaled 700 million pounds, 220 million pounds less than the same time last year and 79 percent of the 3-year-average for March. Chicken wings, which have been in high demand as takeout food during the pandemic, are at their lowest level in cold storage since 2012 and around 17 million pounds below the same time last year. If the chicken industry were to respond by expanding production, rebounds would probably take at least 9 to 12 weeks—the approximate time it takes for a broiler to hatch and reach maturity. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2021.
Monday, May 24, 2021
The United States is the world’s largest producer of poultry and beef and the third-largest pork producer. Abundant exportable supplies have enabled trade of major U.S. meats and products to run a continual surplus overall, with high demands for U.S. animal proteins in Asia and favorable trade agreements driving quantities exported above quantities imported for pork, broiler meat, and turkey. By volume, broiler meat (broilers are a subset of chickens) was the most traded U.S. meat in 2020. Exports of broiler meat accounted for 92 percent of total poultry (total chicken plus turkey) exports and exceeded imports by almost fiftyfold. Pork exports further contributed toward the growth in the meat trade surplus. In 2020, pork exports were sevenfold higher than pork imports, increasing more than 15 percent, or almost 1 billion pounds from a year earlier. In contrast, apart from 2018, the amount of beef imported by the United States has exceeded exports 7 of the last 8 years. Last year, U.S. beef exports declined more than 2 percent from a year ago, while beef imports rose more than 9 percent over the same period. This trade deficit reflects, in part, a robust U.S. demand for processing-grade beef. Turkey imports were up 72 percent and turkey exports were down 11 percent in 2020, with export levels resulting in a trade surplus for turkey. This chart is drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s April 2021 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook.
Monday, June 1, 2020
As consumers prepared for more at-home meals due to COVID-19, retail demand for many products—particularly eggs—increased sharply in March. This surge in grocery store demand, coupled with supply constraints, caused wholesale egg prices to more than triple in March, reaching an all-time high of $3.07 per dozen. While egg prices were expected to rise in line with Easter, this increase was compounded by COVID-19-related retail activity. Then in April, prices decreased as rapidly as they increased, retreating to $1.05 per dozen by the end of the month. The March swell in retail demand coincided with a nearly yearlong industry effort to correct an oversupply of eggs that caused weaker wholesale prices for most of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. February and March table egg production decreased year over year for the first time since April 2016, driven by a sizeable counter seasonal reduction in the table egg layer flock. Short term measures to increase egg supplies, such as redirecting eggs from food service to retail or increasing egg production, were constrained. Differences in food service and retail egg packing equipment at the farm level limited the number of food service eggs that could be diverted to the retail sector. For the longer term, to increase egg production, any potential flock expansion would take at least 5 months—the time it takes for an egg to hatch and reach egg-laying maturity—to manifest itself in increased egg production. In late April, prices stabilized, suggesting that supply and demand imbalances have eased. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published in April and May 2020.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
The outbreak of COVID-19 among workers in U.S. broiler processing facilities has slowed the processing volumes of broiler chicken meat, which had previously been running at a steadily high pace. Production of broiler meat in the United States in early 2020 reached a record-producing clip, significantly outperforming the same period in 2019. To support this level of production, processing rates (slaughter) had also reached an all-time high, with first-quarter 2020 volumes reaching an average of 169 million birds per week. With the spread of COVID-19, measures to increase social distancing on the production line, as well as plant closures and workforce absenteeism drove down broiler processing volumes to 155 million birds the week ending April 11 and 150 million the week ending April 18. These decreases of 8 percent and 11 percent, respectively, relative to first-quarter average volumes pushed April weekly processing volumes below levels not seen since 2014. The disruption to broiler supplies, however, was preceded by a significant shift in the demand structure for broiler meat wherein demand from food service declined sharply. While much of this demand transferred to the retail sector, it is unlikely that retail is completely making up for the lost food-service demand. Although prices of some cuts have increased from their recent lows as supplies have tightened, wholesale prices for nearly all broiler products since the beginning of April remain weak, suggesting overall broiler supplies continue to outpace demand. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook for March and April 2020 and has been updated using data from the Agricultural Marketing Service.
Friday, April 10, 2020
In 2019, the United States produced more than 8 billion dozen table eggs, a 2.8-percent increase over 2018. Much of this growth came in the first half of 2019, driven by a larger layer flock—a flock of egg-laying hens—as well as higher egg lay rates. However, this growth resulted in an oversupply of eggs, which put significant downward pressure on egg prices. In response, the industry took measures beginning in June 2019 to downsize the layer flock. For the remainder of 2019, the layer flock inventory fell below or hovered around previous year levels. Nonetheless, table egg production in the second half of 2019 remained 1.5 percent higher over 2018 because of record-high lay rates. On November 1, 2019, the U.S. table egg lay rate reached 82 eggs per 100 layers, the highest rate on record. Lay rates, which have increased by approximately 11 percent since 2000, have been an important driver of growth in egg production. Several factors can affect lay rates, including day length, hen age, nutrition, disease, genetics, and flock management. Egg production decreases with shorter days, particularly during fall and winter, but this can be remedied with artificial lighting. Younger hens and older hens do not produce as many eggs as those hens of peak production age (approximately 26 weeks). Finally, advancements in nutrition, disease prevention, genetic selection, and improved flock management practices have contributed to improving overall hen health, which is associated with good lay rates. In the beginning of 2020, although lay rates continued to trend higher year over year, the layer flock contracted sizably. This tightening of supply has been met with a surge in demand, causing prices to increase in March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Monthly Outlook, published March 2020, and the Livestock & Meat Domestic Data: Production Indicators.