Meat has been among the most in-demand items at supermarkets as people stock up on essentials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
That has people up and down Illinois’ livestock supply chain – especially producers of beef and pork – trying to keep up. Industry leaders say the Illinois factories processing beef and pork are running at normal capacity with multiple shifts a day to keep shelves and meat cases stocked.
“There has been and continues to be a steady supply reaching consumers,” said Jill Johnson, executive vice president of the Illinois Beef Association. “In the beef industry right now, there's nothing that's pointing to not being able to fulfill that demand.”
As orders for pork – of which Illinois is the fourth-biggest producer in the country – come in more frequently from grocery stores, the state’s three major pork packing facilities are functioning at normal capacity, according to Illinois Pork Producers Association Executive Director Jennifer Tirey.
“Our farmers don't stop working during this. They are in it for the long haul. And we are moving meat to grocery stores on a daily basis,” she said.
While meat flies off supermarket shelves, some of the stress on the supply chain is eased by a decrease in orders from restaurants, which had to close their doors to dine-in customers this week.
“We've actually had grocery stores be able to step in and pick up that slack,” Johnson said. “So in terms of keeping beef moving to a consumer, that's not an issue.”
Jacob Liebman, a Central Illinois beef cattle farmer with a small farm in Morgan County, said he has had a consistent stream of calls and texts from slaughterhouses, including one on Friday morning searching for more ground beef.
“He was looking for old bulls, old cows, just things that can be turned into hamburger, basically,” Liebman said.
Mike Doherty, a senior economist at the Illinois Farm Bureau, said one potential strain on the supply chain is uncertainty in the workforce for slaughterhouses and processing plants.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, Illinois has closed schools and put an added emphasis on caring for the elderly. So despite processing plants having “generally younger workers,” Doherty said some employees might need to stay home.
Tirey said pork packers “are managing to continue with normal operations,” but “as time goes on,” they have expressed similar concerns about workforce availability.
— Capitol News Illinois