Farmers expect rapid growth for plant-based meats, but don’t like it

Plant-based meats, an alternative to beef, pork, and chicken, have only a toehold in the meat market, but U.S. farmers expect their market share will grow rapidly. Half of the farmers surveyed by Purdue University said plant-based proteins could hold up to 10% of the meat market in five years and some expected the share to be much larger.

Most of the respondents to the Ag Economy Barometer poll said they would not grow crops for processing into a meat alternative, even if they were offered a contract, said Purdue on Tuesday. And the same portion, just above 60%, said there would be a damaging decline in U.S. farm income if plant-based meats reached a 25% market share.

“Obviously, they’re very concerned about how this is going to play out,” said Purdue economist Michael Langemeier on the “Adams on Agriculture” show. A market share of 5% or 10% would be “a game-changer…something that would have ripples throughout production agriculture,” said Langemeier, one of the economists who oversees the monthly survey of 400 large-volume farmers and ranchers.

Although sales of plant-based meats zoomed during the pandemic, they are dwarfed by sales of meat from animals. Grocery store sales of refrigerated meats totaled $82.5 billion compared with plant-based meat sales of $475 million in 2020, said analyst Ann-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics. Her figures excluded frozen products, which would lift plant proteins to $1.2 billion. When frozen meat is included, retail sales would be around $95 billion, according to other sources.

Plant-based meats “may have been a back-up purchase or a trial” in 2020 when the pandemic slowed meat production, said Roerink. “All that said, there is absolute interest among the younger generations in items that address their planet, animal welfare, and health concerns or simply protein variety. Many of these items are easy to cook and bring something different. I think we’re going to see more innovation in the ‘bigs’ in our industry in this regard and the development of items with fewer ingredients and more geared at eating experience as well.”

Some analysts forecast that sales of plant-based meats will double by 2025.

At least one-third of the producers in the Purdue poll have livestock, said Langemeier, so a large change in standing of animal protein compared to plant proteins would affect many farmers. “A lot of our corn is used for animal production in the United States and around the world, and the same for soybean meal.”

In the Purdue poll, 31% of respondents said they expected plant-based meats would have less than a 1% share of the meat market in five years. But 55% said they expected a share of up to 10%; 12% of respondents expected a share of 10% to 20%, and 3% said it would be as high as 30%.

If plant proteins took a 25% share of meat sales, U.S. farm income would drop by 10% or more, said 41% of respondents. An additional 20% said income wold drop by 5%. Only 9% said income would rise. Livestock generate 47% of cash receipts for farmers.

Americans are among the world’s biggest meat eaters, along with Australia and New Zealand, on a per capita basis. The USDA forecasts consumption at 224.8 pounds per person this year, just below the record 225.1 pounds in 2020.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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