The coronavirus pandemic has caused chaos in the agriculture marketplace. For the time being, demand for beef and pork has remained strong in the United States and in Asia.
Dan Halstrom, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said there is still a long road to recovery, but there are strong signs of improvement for demand of U.S. protein product in Asia.
“While we've only been dealing with the coronavirus for the last few weeks here, they've been dealing with it in Asia since early January,” said Halstrom. “I’m happy to report that we're actually seeing some very good signs out of Asia. Specifically, in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. People are getting back to work. Restaurants are reopening. It’s by no means normal. But it is returning with a fast trend line with people out in the restaurants. It's not the same kind of demand as it was pre-coronavirus, but definitely going in the right direction.”
January statistics show U.S. pork exports up 36% and beef up 2.5%. The meat export federation expects to see more of an impact on exports going into the spring. African swine fever continues to create a protein shortage in many parts of the world, which means demand could remain strong.
“Let's not forget about African Swine Fever throughout the world,” Halstrom added. “We have a severe shortage of protein. It's not real evident today because of all the focus on the coronavirus. The reality is, roughly 25% of the world's hogs are not there as compared to a year ago due to ASF. There will be increased demand for imports globally for pork specifically, but also for poultry and beef. I’m not downplaying the impact of the coronavirus. It's a very serious situation, but as I said, people are still eating and the U.S. with record production is well position to supply it.”
Many remain optimistic about the trade opportunities for beef in Asia. At the same time, frustration remains in the countryside, as cattle producers watch recent profits made by beef packers continuing to increase compared to what ranchers in Montana are paid for their calves.