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Poultry farming realities during COVID-19

Rapid changes lead to a volatile market

A poultry producer who asked to remain anonymous for this article, says that within a week, the chicken business has taken a turn for the worse.

“We are praying and keeping our fingers crossed because our birds aren't marketing,” the Delmarva Peninsula producer says. “They were supposed to start moving to our integrator yesterday. Our pick-up schedule has changed numerous times this week and some of our birds won’t move until next.”

The producer, who raises more than a million birds annually, is at the mercy of changes happening hourly.

Integrators (companies who contract with farmers to raise birds) have been unable to process birds as scheduled, which is leading to changes in the actual bird placements on farms. This may cause a supply issue when those birds are at a marketable age six to nine weeks down the road.

Challenges to poultry processing

One of the main issues causing the scheduling delays for integrators is the lack of workforce. Social distancing requirements are nearly impossible to maintain in a poultry operation when workers are side-by-side on processing lines.

But at the core of the industry is a lack of diversification. “We’ve become so streamlined. When there is a need for X but you only produce Y, you can’t retrofit your process to meet the demand we are currently experiencing,” says the Delmarva producer.

Because of the current situation, some companies are offering truckload sales where you can buy 10 pounds of chicken for $10 with no limit just to get supply out to the public.

“Those processors are probably just breaking even if not even taking a loss but at least they're giving product out to people that can benefit,” says the producer.

While there isn’t a food shortage right now, because of the uncertainty, there could be in the future.

And as poultry producers wait for their birds to process, that means waiting for a paycheck when bills continue to mount.

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