ASF Numbers in Germany Grow; U.S. Hog Futures Rise

U.S. hog futures rose on Tuesday after more cases of African swine fever (ASF) were discovered in wild boars in Germany. Government officials in Germany warn more cases of ASF in wild boars are to be expected because they move in groups and the virus is easily transmitted. Europe’s largest pork producer reported its first outbreak of ASF in a wild boar on Sept. 9. The total is up to 32 since the first case was discovered. To date, the cases have been located close to the first one in the east German state of Brandenburg. Nine cases were confirmed in Brandenburg on Sept. 23 and three more cases on Sept. 24, Reuters reports. “Prices for weaner piglets in Germany have fallen sharply in past weeks following the discovery of ASF in the country,” AgDay’s Clinton Griffiths reports. Christine McCracken, executive director – animal protein for Rabobank, said in the short run, the announcement gave a little life to the market. “For the U.S., for example, we might pick up some of that,” McCracken said on AgDay TV. “The challenge though, is that there are lot of other European countries, Denmark or Spain, that process a lot of the same product that Germany does.” Other European countries may be a better fit than imports from the Americas. “It doesn't mean we can't see a benefit. It’s still a global meat block. You have to think about when somebody loses, somebody else gains. But it's probably not the huge opportunity that the market initially thought," McCracken explains.

Despite Drought, Cow Slaughter Trends Lower

Despite an expanding drought, U.S. cow slaughter is down 0.5% from last year and draws attention to how cull cows impact America’s beef consumption. For the week ending July 20, USDA reports total beef and dairy cow slaughter at 114,500 head, down 3.4% from the same week a year ago. Over the past four weeks – including the holiday-shortened week – total slaughter was 455,700 head, down 0.5%. “The decline in cow slaughter may come as a surprise to those looking at some of the dry conditions that have developed in the Texas Panhandle and Western Kansas,” writes Len Steiner in the Daily Livestock Report. “But even as this region accounts for a large share of the US beef cow herd, and thus slaughter, it is important to remember that cows are widely distributed around the country.” USDA reported U.S. beef cow slaughter for the last four weeks increased by 20,300 head, or 9% compared to the same period last year. During the same four weeks, however, dairy cow slaughter was down 22,400 head or 10% from a year ago. California’s beef cow inventory was 665,000 head on January 1, but the number of dairy cows in the state is much larger at 1.725 million head. Dairy cow slaughter in region 9 is down 11% during the last four weeks compared to last year.

Tyson Fire, Pandemic Market Report Released By USDA

USDA released Wednesday the long-awaited report on its investigation into cattle market disruptions  following last year’s Tyson Foods packing plant fire and this spring’s impact from the coronavirus pandemic. The 20-page report confirmed massive volatility to both the cash and futures markets yet found no wrong-doing on the part of any industry participants. Prepared by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in coordination with the Office of the Chief Economist, summarizes market conditions, fed cattle prices, boxed beef values and the spread before and after the two market-disrupting events. Appearing on Wednesday’s AgriTalk PM shortly after the report’s release, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Colin Woodall said the industry is glad to have the report in hand, though acknowledged it will not satisfy everyone. The report “very readily acknowledges that there are a lot of issues that we need to address – packing capacity, for example, further transparency.” While AMS did not cite any wrong-doing, the investigations are not over, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue indicated as much in a statement. “While we’re pleased to provide this update, we assure producers that our work continues in order to determine if there are any violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act,” Perdue said. “If any unfair practices are detected, we will take quick enforcement action.” Issuing his own statement after the report, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who has called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into the cattle markets, said, “As USDA continues to investigate market manipulation and unfair practices, today’s report lays out steps we can take to fix this marketplace. Congress has a responsibility to heed the advice of this report and take action to restore cattle price transparency when we reauthorize Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting requirements.” Woodall said NCBA has focused on “having some minimum cash trade levels in order to have price discovery and some sort of trigger mechanism that could go along with that. I do believe that is going to be a big topic during our summer business meeting next week here in Denver.” The Justice Department’s investigation is ongoing and Woodall said DOJ employees have been in the country “interviewing people throughout the entire beef supply chain. There’s more to come on this in terms of whether or not there’s any sort of criminal action that may have taken place.” But the AMS report also supports the argument that while the two black swan events caused disruption and economic harm to producers, the markets reacted to those events and not to some outside intervention. “There was nothing (in the report) to indicate any sort of market manipulation,” Woodall said. “Once we look back at this, we understand that it has had a significant impact on our industry and a significant impact on prices and is still having an impact.” To producers who may be unhappy with the findings of AMS’ report, Woodall’s message to them is, “It’s not over. This is just one part of it. I think this is an important piece of the overall puzzle and we needed to see what USDA would find. There are a lot of individuals who believe that anything short of Packers going to jail is not going to be acceptable. But I hope that they will take the time to read what is here and understand that USDA spent a lot of time and effort to try to make sure that they get they get as much information that they can analyze, look at it from a true third party viewpoint, in order to provide  the industry some of the best information we could get.” The North American Meat Institute also released a statement about the USDA investigation into beef price margins. “In its analysis of the effects of the fire and the pandemic, USDA found no wrong-doing and confirms the disruption in the beef markets was due to devastating and unprecedented events,” said Meat Institute President and CEO, Julie Anna Potts. “It is difficult to see how the USDA’s recommended legislative proposals would have changed the outcome of the fire or the pandemic.” Related stories:

Production Disruptions Slow May Exports of Beef, Pork

Production slowdowns at American meatpacking facilities caused by the coronavirus pandemic this spring produced declines in exports for both beef and pork during May. Beef exports fell 33% during May compared to 2019, recording the lowest monthly volume in 10 years, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The value of beef exports fell 34% to $480.1 million as shipments were higher than a year ago to Hong Kong and China but lower to most other markets. For January through May, beef exports fell 3% below last year's pace in volume (512,596 mt) and 5% lower in value ($3.14 billion). May Pork exports remained higher than a year ago but were the lowest since October 2019. Pork exports in May were 12% above a year ago, but down 13% compared to the monthly average for the first quarter of 2020. May pork exports increased year-over-year to China/Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam, but trended lower to Mexico, Japan, Canada and South Korea. For January through May, pork exports were 30% ahead of last year's pace in volume (1.35 million mt) and 37% higher in value ($3.53 billion). "As protective measures related to COVID-19 were being implemented, plant disruptions peaked in early May with a corresponding temporary slowdown in exports," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Unfortunately the impact was quite severe, especially on the beef side. Exports also faced some significant economic headwinds, especially in our Western Hemisphere markets, as stay-at-home orders were implemented in key destinations and several trading partners dealt with slumping currencies." Halstrom noted that the recent rebound in beef and pork production will help exports regain momentum in the second half of 2020. The global economic outlook is challenging, but he looks for export volumes to recover quickly in most markets as U.S. red meat remains an important staple, not only in the United States but for many international consumers as well. "In what has been a remarkably turbulent year, consumer demand for U.S. red meat has proven very resilient," he said. "Now that production has substantially recovered, the U.S. industry is better able to meet the needs of both domestic and international customers. While the foodservice and hospitality sectors face enormous challenges, they are on the path to recovery in some markets while retail demand remains strong. Retail sales have also been bolstered by a surge in e-commerce and innovations in home meal replacement, as convenience remains paramount."

USDA offers web seminar on proposed rule on organic enforcement

A U.S. Department of Agriculture web seminar will provide an overview of proposed changes to enforcement regulations of organic agriculture. The web seminar is set for 1 p.m. Eastern on July 8 and will review the USDA’s National Organic Program’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement proposed rule, according to a notice from the agency. The proposed rule will be published soon in the Federal Register, according to the agency. Registration is free for the web seminar. A 60-day comment period will begin when the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, according to the USDA.

USDA adds online portal to apply for coronavirus funds

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had added an online portal for growers submitting applications for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Currently, the digital application is available only to sole proprietors or single-member business entities. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency processes the documents for the program and the online portal will expand options for producers. The Farm Service Agency is “leveraging commercial document storage and e-signature solutions” through the process, according to a news release. “We are doing everything we can to serve our customers and make sure agricultural producers impacted by the pandemic can quickly and securely apply for this relief program,” FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce said in the release. “In addition to working with FSA staff through the phone, e-mail and scheduled in-person appointments, we can now also take applications through the portal, which saves producers and our staff time.” Growers who want to digitally sign applications should tell their local service centers when contacting them to sign up for the CFAP funds, which are direct payments to producers affected by the COVIID-19 pandemic. Other ways of to apply for CFAP are:
  • Downloading an application form from and submitting it a local USDA Service Center; and
  • Completing the application form using the CFAP Application Generator and Payment Calculator at, and submitting it to the local center.

Lighthizer: Trade Deal is Intact, Chinese Purchase Commitment to Stand

As large Chinese purchases of soybeans continue to roll in while rumors of a broken relationship abound, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer assured farmers on Wednesday that the deal is still intact. Additionally, he told AgriTalk host Chip Flory that the Chinese would fulfill their Phase One purchase agreements in 2020. “I think Peter [Navarro] was misunderstood,” Lighthizer told Flory. “Trust me that the trade deal is on. It's the biggest trade deal anybody's ever done, and it is completely on.” Lighthizer says the Trump administration, including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, is working “full time” on the deal with the expectation that it will move forward “full speed ahead.” When asked about the possibility the U.S. could ever “decouple” from China when it comes to trade, Lighthizer said he wasn’t interested in speculating, but that China is a huge market for U.S. agriculture. “We have, through this agreement, for the first time ever opened up beef and poultry,” he said. “We are selling massive amounts of soybeans again. In the three or four months this has been intact, we have approved more than 2,000 new facilities to ship to China. We're up to 3,500 now, so I think it's going to be a massive impact on American farmers.”   A Tricky Relationship  The trading relationship the U.S. has with China is complicated, Lighthizer admitted, adding that President Trump is focused on getting the relationship right. “These are the two biggest countries, two biggest economies in the world, and we're really in many ways a bipolar world and that's the other polar,” he explained.
While a big portion of the deal is purchase agreements, the rest of it deals with structural changes that will allow the U.S. to sell more goods to China. “They took 57 commitments and they've already followed through on 50 of them, so it's a massive change. It's really, really going to have a positive effect for farmers and ranchers in this country, and we're excited about it,” he said. “But the relationship is still going to be complicated We have to get the balance right, and we have to make sure that the U.S. is safe and prosperous, and that our farmers are selling lots of products.” Keeping Their Commitment  Lighthizer is confident the Chinese will keep their purchase commitments as part of the Phase One Deal. “Picture it, we're negotiating through this thing where we negotiate into the new year. We finish on the 15th of January we sign it's got a 30 day entry into a fourth date so that means it's the 15th,” he says. “The question is, are the first-year commitments on a calendar year? The answer is they are on a calendar year and that puts an awful lot of pressure on the Chinese, particularly in the purchasing side to get that done in what is a relatively brief period of time. That was a specific point of negotiation. I think it's really important the president thought it was really important for our farmers and ranchers, that we get all that in during that calendar year so we expect them to do it.” Because soybeans are one of the biggest crops on the Chinese buying list, the seasons are playing into purchase timing, he says. “But we expect them to do it all during the course of this calendar year,” he added. Lighthizer would not provide any kind of timeline on Phase Two but said it will be dependent on the completion of Phase One.

USDA releases plan on $2.1 billion in COVID-19 payments to growers

With up to $2.1 billion for specialty crop producers at stake, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided the first details of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program direct payment plan. The direct payments are the second part of USDA’s coronavirus relief. The first, the Farmers to Families Food Box program, announced $1.2 billion in contracts May 8 for food box deliveries of fresh produce, dairy, and pre-cooked meat. Funding for produce box sourcing and distribution was earlier estimated at $100 million per month for six months.

Direct payment plan

Under the direct payment program, payments will be based on losses where prices and market supply chains were disrupted. The compensation will help growers deal with lost demand and short-term oversupply during the 2020 marketing year as a result of COVID-19, according to a news release from USDA. “These payments will help keep farmers afloat while market demand returns as our nation reopens and recovers,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the release. “America’s farmers are resilient and will get through this challenge just like they always do with faith, hard work, and determination.” Producers that fall into one of the following categories may be eligible to receive direct payments: Sales with a price loss of 5% or more between January 15 and April 15, 2020. Almonds, artichokes, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lemons, iceberg and romaine lettuce, dry onions, peaches, pears, pecans, bell and other types of peppers, rhubarb, spinach, squash, strawberries and tomatoes are eligible; Shipments that left the farm by April 15 and spoiled due to no market or for which no payment was received. All specialty crops are eligible for this payment; and Shipments that have not left farm or mature crops that remained unharvested by April 15. All specialty crops are eligible for this payment. Beginning on May 26, growers of eligible commodities may apply for assistance through their local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Center, according to the release. Application forms and additional information is at The USDA said there is a payment limitation of $250,000 per person or entity for all commodities combined, although the USDA said corporations, limited liability companies or limited partnerships may qualify for additional payments if members actively provide personal labor or personal management for the farming operation. Producers will also have to certify they meet the Adjusted Gross Income limitation of $900,000 unless at least 75% or more of their income is derived from farming, ranching or forestry-related activities, according to the USDA, and producers must also be in compliance with Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions. The USDA encouraged specialty crop producers to complete applications before May 26.

Program details

The direct payment funding comes from $9.5 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act and $6.5 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to compensate producers from market disruptions. Under the direct payment program, producers will receive 80% of their maximum total payment upon approval of the application. The remaining portion of the payment, not to exceed the payment limit, will be paid at a later date as funds remain available. The USDA first announced the $16 billion program for all farmers and ranchers in mid-April: The direct payments are going to:
  • $9.6 billion for the livestock industry ($5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 billion for hogs);
  • $3.9 billion for row crop producers;
  • $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers; and
  • $500 million for other crops Direct Assistance for Farmers and Ranchers.

Produce Industry reaction

The following associations issued statements on the USDA’s direct payment plan. Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association President Mike Joyner: “We appreciate the administration’s efforts to help agriculture overcome many of the challenges we have faced during this pandemic. Florida specialty crop producers experienced devastating losses from the shutdown of the foodservice supply chain and slowdown at retail – losses far greater than the direct payment limits announced today will cover. We will continue to work with Congress and the administration to secure additional relief for hard-hit Florida growers of fresh fruits and vegetables.” National Potato Council CEO Kam Quarles: “Given the scope of this crisis, we knew the initial funding would be insufficient to meet the need of family farms. Based upon the limited resources announced today under this direct payment program, the potato industry is strongly urging Congress to act rapidly to provide more resources and flexibility to fill this huge gap and maintain producers’ livelihoods.” United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel: “We applaud the announcement of a direct payment program for fruit and vegetable growers, which can also help relieve some of the debts owed by distributors who lost the ability to pay when the foodservice sector was shut down. Combined with the Farmers to Families produce box program, these are steps in the right direction. But we still need to work closely with Congress to provide additional needed support to agriculture in the next round of legislation on Capitol Hill. It’s essential that administration and Congress focus on programs that target resources for growers, grower-shippers and others in the produce distribution supply chain that have had direct job losses and immediate financial impact from government mandated closures.” Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia: “The administration is doing what it can to help as many farmers as possible from a limited source of relief funds. The tough part of this is that even with the increased cap on relief payments to individual farmers, the actual losses are far greater for many. By way of example, the average sized lettuce farm in the West is 250 acres and requires about $5,000 per acre to grow the crop. The relief payment cap means the farmer who lost the entire crop when the food service industry was closed will have no relief for all but 50 acres of that loss. “We appreciate all the administration has already done, especially on regulatory and administrative challenges, to keep our industry operating through the crisis. I urge the president and (Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue) to closely monitor the full scope of economic damage done to fresh produce growers and other farmers and ranchers, and to work with Congress to close the gap in future COVID-19 relief efforts.”  

Closed Meat Plants Today, Empty Meat Cases This Summer

Reduced meat processing capacity caused by U.S. plant closures and slowdowns has created a massive bottleneck in the nation’s meat and livestock supply chain. A new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division, says even if the reduction of processing capacity is temporary, it will likely have a lasting impact on meat processors, livestock producers, retail stores and consumers. Meat supplies for retail grocery stores could shrink nearly 30% by Memorial Day, leading to retail pork and beef price increases as high as 20% relative to prices last year, the report says. “Margins for cattle and hog farmers have fallen to multi-year lows,” says Will Sawyer, lead animal protein economist with CoBank. “As meat plants have closed, farmers are left with few options for their livestock, requiring herds to be culled. Shrinkage in the U.S. livestock herd will likely make the food supply shortage more acute later in the year.”   Pork and beef production have dropped 35% compared to a year ago, making retail shortages and price inflation nearly assured, Sawyer adds. Pork processing is expected to pick up in the coming weeks, but producers may still be forced to euthanize as many as 7 million pigs in the second quarter alone, worth nearly $700 million at historical average prices, the report notes. Not only will this decrease meat supplies this fall but it will also add to the billions of dollars of losses from lower livestock prices. Sawyer expects reduced supplies of meat in grocery stores in May and June. U.S. consumers have been able to rely on grocery stores this spring as many restaurants across the country have closed in response to “stay-at-home” orders in many cities and states. “As communities reopen with only about one week of meat supply in cold storage, shortages and stock outs in the meat case couldn’t come at a worse time. Food inflation and a weak U.S. economy is a combination that will leave many consumers in greater financial strain,” the report says. Significant contractions in meat supplies have often led to substantial inflation of retail beef and pork prices, Sawyer says. “In the past 20 years, retail pork prices experienced inflation of more than 10% just twice. And neither of those times did we see inflation climb to 20%, which may be coming in the months ahead,” he says. Despite President Trump’s executive order to reopen closed meat plants, per capita COVID-19 cases around U.S. meat plants have climbed, raising the risk of further plant capacity disruptions. In addition, attracting enough workers to fill the vacancies at meat plants across the U.S. may be challenging, the report suggests. Meat processors continue to institute measures to ensure employee safety, reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep protein supplies moving. Some companies are offering bonuses and increasing benefits. “The United States is facing an unprecedented situation and it will take a while to return to what life was like before COVID-19,” the report concludes.

Tyson Fresh Meats Plans to Reopen Logansport Pork Plant

Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., announced plans to resume limited production at its Logansport, Ind., facility the week of May 4, following a plant tour with local health and government officials, a union representative, and medical professionals. The Logansport plant temporarily halted operations on April 25 to test its team members for COVID-19, Tyson said in a statement on Friday. Team members were asked to self-isolate until their results returned, Tyson said. The company is continuing to work with local health officials to verify test results. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., announced plans to resume limited production at its Logansport, Ind., facility the week of May 4, following a plant tour with local health and government officials, a union representative, and medical professionals. The Logansport plant temporarily halted operations on April 25 to test its team members for COVID-19, Tyson said in a statement on Friday. Team members were asked to self-isolate until their results returned, Tyson said. The company is continuing to work with local health officials to verify test results. “We’re also now screening employees for additional symptoms and designating monitors to help enforce social distancing, while following the CDC and OSHA’s guidance for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers,” Tyson said. The Logansport facility is the first of several Tyson plants to receive a mobile health clinic, operated by Matrix Medical Network, to provide community-based services ranging from diagnostic (PCR) testing for COVID-19, assist with the environmental design of the facility to mitigate the risk of the virus spread, as well as conduct daily on-site clinical screening. The company has also doubled its bonus for employees. In addition, Tyson Foods is also increasing short-term disability coverage to 90% of normal pay until June 30, 2020, for team members who are unable to work due to illness. “Tyson Fresh Meats has worked well with local community leaders to make sure its re-opening plan is safe,” said Dori Ditty, health officer of Cass County Health Department. “We toured the plant and feel the additional measures implemented will allow employees to work safely, while continuing to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations. We’ll continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety of employees.” Tyson Fresh Meats’ recently announced its plans to temporarily halt operations at its Dakota City, Nebraska, beef plant for additional deep cleaning and sanitation. The group also voluntarily idled its locations in Waterloo and Perry, Iowa, and Pasco, Washington, while team members undergo testing and plants complete deep cleaning of the facilities, the statement said.