Meat-industry analyst Kevin Grier told a meeting of Manitoba’s Keystone Agriculture Producers this week that the meat industry’s performance was “phenomenal” last year.
But there were huge challenges, especially when both the Cargill and JBS beef-packing plants in Alberta, then the Conestoga Meats hog slaughter plant in Ontario shut down because workers were stricken with COVID-19.
Cattle and pigs backed up on Canadian farms, but wholesale meat prices shot up not only because of the Canadian challenges, but also because of similar problems in the United States.
When plants shut down, the shortage of meat drove prices “to levels never imaginable” in spring, said Grier.
Wholesale prices held “reasonably firm” for the rest of the year, he said. Cut-out prices were relatively stable.
That means margins for packers were extraordinary for most of 2020, he said.
But matters were far from so rosy for farmers. Hog prices averaged well below 2019 and finding a timely home for market-ready cattle proved difficult.
Quebec still has a backlog of 140,000 hogs, he said.
“The system bent but it did not break. I believe that the response was remarkable,” said Grier.
That included retailers who shopped the globe for meat to fill empty meat counters in April and meatpackers, employees and governments who worked together to keep slaughter plants operating more safely.