A new report this month from CoBank lead economist, Will Sawyer, projects a surge in feed prices for 2021, likely to challenge recovery in the animal protein sector moving forward.
Sawyer estimates that for 2021, the U.S. animal protein sector will face 12% higher feed costs due to higher corn and soybean meal prices. This will mark the highest year-over-year inflation for this segment since 2011.
China's shortage of animal protein during the last two years is a large part of the reason for this projected increase. Sawyer notes since 2018 the country has lost more than half its hog herd, leading to it becoming the largest global importer of beef and pork. The USDA reports China's imports of animal protein will decline in 2021, after more than tripling since 2017. However, China's imports of animal feed are poised to surpass all-time highs, both in soybeans and corn.
"China has long held the top importer position for soybeans, but China's imports of corn are making waves in global grain and commodity markets," reported Sawyer, adding that expectations for increased U.S. corn exports have climbed and the USDA now expects exports to account for 24% of the crop, versus 15% a year ago.
Not all segments of the livestock business will be impacted equally by feed inflation, says Sawyer. First quarter of 2021, hog producers are expected to face the highest level of inflation at 14%; followed by cattle feeders at 13% and chicken producers at 11%. By summer, feed cost inflation for the overall sector will be near 18% for the second quarter; and 16% in the third.
Asked if the upward price trend for feed is likely to encourage beef producers to hold back calves, Sawyer told DTN the percentage of operations in extreme or exceptional drought will make that less likely.
"As we look at the drought map, 27% of the High Plains region is in extreme or exceptional drought compared to half that amount just three months ago," noted Sawyer. "These moisture conditions, along with the outlook for high feed costs will yield a number of tough decisions for the cow-calf and stocker sectors moving into the new year."
On the positive side, Sawyer notes there are some possible upsides for 2021, depending on how COVID-19 efforts move forward.
He says as the country achieves herd immunity, he expects that will drive consumers toward more normalization in consumption patterns of food and animal proteins. In addition, he says he is hopeful that after a $2.5 billion investment by meat and poultry companies in the U.S. in direct COVID-19 expenses to ensure safe working conditions and reduced plant shutdowns, plants will be able to operate with a reduced likelihood of disruption in 2021.
"Many of the costs the U.S. animal protein companies have incurred due to COVID-19 will continue until a vaccine and herd immunity is in place," Sawyer said. "But with plants operating at a more normal level, absenteeism levels improving, and far fewer workers falling ill, the financial impact of COVID-19 looks to be far less in the coming year than what the industry has endured in 2020. We estimate that livestock and poultry processing costs are approximately 10% higher than a year ago at current COVID-19 costs levels, but this is far less than what the industry endured this past spring."
(c) Copyright 2020 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.