Weekly global protein digest — HPAI in dairy cattle, Argentina’s beef exports surge, Chick-fil-A reverses NAE

Livestock analyst Jim Wyckoff reports on beef, pork, dairy and poultry news from around the world

China’s hog herd still too big despite reductions

China’s hog herd will remain in surplus this year, despite new government targets to tame oversupply. Earlier this month, Beijing adjusted the national target for normal retention of breeding sows to 39 million head from 41 million and issued new regulations to control the country’s pig production capacity. But increasingly productive sows and a reluctance in hog farms to destock will keep herd size at high levels and prices low. Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. said the sow herd needs to decline to about 35 million head. It forecasts China’s 2024 pig production at 717 million head, down 10 million head (1.4%) from last year.

Update on bird flu in dairy cattle

  • USDA has identified infected cows in four dairy herds in Kansas and Texas, and tests of other herds are pending. Dairy cows in New Mexico have also exhibited symptoms of the illness. 
  • The locations of the infected herds in southwest Kansas and the panhandle of Texas are in the Central Flyway — a major migratory route that goes west of Iowa, through Nebraska and South Dakota.
  • On Monday, tests of milk from the sick cows confirmed that they were infected by the avian flu. Those affected were older animals and typically comprised about 10% of the total herd, USDA reported. The infected cows have generally recovered from the illness, rather than dying. Milk from sick animals is discarded, and the most-affected herds produced about 40% less milk for about a week.
  • Initial analysis by a USDA lab did not detect a genetic change in the virus to make it easily transmissible between mammals, which means the infected cows are unlikely to infect other cows or humans. 
  • A suspected source of infection is feed that gets contaminated by wild birds. Infected birds can pillage feed that is out in the open and defecate on it in the process.
  • The disease can infect mammals, too. USDA has a list of more than 200 individual mammals that were infected with the bird flu in the past two years in the United States. The list includes fox, opossum, squirrels, dolphins and grizzly bears. Last week, Minnesota announced that bird flu had killed at least one young goat at a farm where poultry had been infected in February. It was the first known infection of US livestock by the virus.

Argentina’s February beef export surge to 57-year high

Argentina exported 82,548 MT of beef in February, the biggest monthly total since 1967. During the first two months of this year, Argentine beef shipments reached a record 160,478 MT, with more than three-quarters of the total going to China. 

China’s sow herd, hog slaughter shrinks in February

China had 40.42 million sows at the end of February, down 0.6% from January and 6.9% less than last year, the ag ministry said. The number of pigs slaughtered in February fell 6.9% from last year to 21.04 million head, a 43.5% drop from January.

USDA discovers bird flu in unpasteurized milk samples from dairy cattle at Texas and Kansas farms

USDA revealed that unpasteurized milk samples from sick cattle at two dairy farms in Kansas and one in Texas, as well as an oropharyngeal swab from another dairy in Texas, tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

USDA, along with various agencies and officials, is investigating cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in dairy cattle across Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico. Samples from sick cattle in these states have tested positive for HPAI, with the illness believed to be linked to wild birds based on initial findings in Texas. However, no mutations indicating increased transmissibility to humans have been identified. Symptoms in affected cattle include decreased lactation, low appetite, and other systemic issues.

USDA reassures that there is no human health risk or risk to the milk supply, as milk from affected animals is either diverted or destroyed, and pasteurization effectively eliminates bacteria and viruses. Only around 10% of affected herds have been impacted, with minimal mortality reported. Additionally, the number of affected cattle is too small to significantly impact milk supply or prices.

Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller said that while the $50 billion Texas dairy industry faces challenges, he ensures consumers of safety measures to prevent contaminated milk entering the supply chain. Cattle with HPAI show flu-like symptoms and reduced milk production, prompting biosecurity measures and disposal of contaminated milk. Unlike poultry, Miller doesn’t foresee depopulating dairy herds as cattle can recover. Texas Department of Agriculture pledges support and urges farmers to notify veterinarians of suspected cases.

Of note: A total of 79.7 million domestic birds, mostly egg-laying hens and turkeys being raised for human consumption, have died from HPAI or in eradication efforts since the first confirmed outbreak on Feb. 8, 2022. Since then, the disease has been confirmed in 1,059 flocks in 47 states.

Trade impacts: A group of dairy trade organizations released a joint statement on the outbreak urging U.S. trading partners to avoid placing bans on American dairy products in response to the detection. The International Dairy Foods Association, the National Milk Producers Federation, the U.S. Dairy Export Council and Dairy Management Inc. were among the groups that signed onto the statement. “It is essential that trading partners do not impose bans or restrictions on the international trade of dairy commodities in response to these and future notifications and rely on the science-based food safety steps taken in U.S. dairy processing, namely pasteurization, in preserving market access,” the groups said.

February US frozen meat stocks signal strong demand

USDA’s Cold Storage Report showed frozen pork stocks declined contra-seasonally during February, while beef inventories fell more than average. Beef inventories at the end of February totaled 442.8 million lbs., down 28.5 million lbs. from January. The five-year average was a 12.9-million-lb. decline during the month. Beef inventories dropped 58.0 million lbs. (11.6%) from year-ago and were 59.8 million lbs. (11.9%) less than the five-year average. Pork stocks dropped 6.8 million lbs. during February to 456.5 million lbs., whereas the five-year average was a 29.7-million-lb. increase for the month. Pork inventories fell 65.1 million lbs. (12.5%) from February 2023 and were 93.0 million lbs. (16.9%) less than the five-year average.

Chick-fil-A reverses its 2014 commitment to use only antibiotic-free chicken

The fast-food firm will now allow some antibiotics in its chicken starting in the spring of 2024. The restaurant chain announced the shift from “No Antibiotics Ever” (NAE) to “No Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine” (NAIHM) on its website. Antibiotics will be used on the chickens only if they or surrounding animals become sick, and the antibiotics used are not intended for human consumption. 

Weekly USDA dairy report

CME GROUP CASH MARKETS (3/22) BUTTER: Grade AA closed at $2.8075. The weekly average for Grade AA is $2.8210 (-$0.0080). CHEESE: Barrels closed at $1.4250 and 40# blocks at $1.3925. The weekly average for barrels is $1.4780, (+$0.0410) and blocks, $1.4280 (-$0.0215). NONFAT DRY MILK: Grade A closed at $1.1075. The weekly average for Grade A is $1.1205 (-$0.0445). DRY WHEY: Extra grade dry whey closed at $0.3950. The weekly average for dry whey is $0.4130 (-$0.0170). 

BUTTER HIGHLIGHTS: Retail demand is strong to steady across the nation. However, stakeholders note interest for securing loads for the spring holiday season varies from picking up slowly to steady. Food service demand is flat to weaker. Cream is readily available throughout most of the country. Butter production is mixed. In the East, various butter makers indicate churning varies from as much as possible to as minimal as possible. In the Central, butter makers indicate steady churning and increases with micro-fixing bulk volumes. In the West, butter makers indicate strong to steady production schedules. Some manufacturers note tight spot load availability for unsalted butter. Bulk butter overages range from 3 to 12 cents above market, across all regions. 

CHEESE HIGHLIGHTS: Milk production continues to trend higher in the East region. Cheese plant managers note that production schedules are steady. Inventories remain comfortable as cheese demand remains quiet. Contacts share retail demand is increasing. Cheese demand in the Central region is trending higher. Cheese plant managers share that they are running robust production. Spot milk prices range from $3- under Class III to flat market. In the West, cheese production schedules are steady to stronger as milk availability remains ample. Contracted cheese demand is steady, though spot demand is trending lighter. Some contacts share current market conditions are weakening export demand. 

FLUID MILK: Milk production is steady to stronger throughout the country. Open processing capacities are tight in some parts of the country. Balancing plants are busier with heavier milk volumes as the nation cycles through session breaks at educational facilities. In California, some plants going through system changeovers/upgrades have had multiple extended unplanned downtimes. Processors say in some parts of the Western region spot load availability is tight. Spot milk offers as low as $6-under Class III were reported for the Central region, although completed sales dipped to $3-under. Class I demand is lighter. Class II, III, and IV demands are strong to steady. Condensed skim availability is looser. Cream multiples for all Classes are 1.05-1.33 in the East, 1.14-1.28 in the Midwest, and 1.00-1.25 in the West. 

DRY PRODUCTS: Low/medium nonfat dry milk (NDM) prices moved lower on both ends of the Central and East range and the bottom end of the West range. Prices for the top end of the West range moved higher. Plenty of condensed skim is available for low/ medium heat NDM production. High heat NDM prices were unchanged for both ends of the central and east region range. In the West, prices are mixed. Stakeholders say spot inventories are well balanced with demand. Dry buttermilk prices held steady, aside from downward price movement for the bottom end of the Central and East range. A few manufacturers note lighter drying schedules due to some weaker interest from buyers. Dry whole milk prices stayed firm. Inventories are tight. Dry whey prices moved lower in all regions, aside from upward price movement for the top end of the Central region range. Demand is steady to lighter. Lactose prices moved lower for the bottom end of the range. Domestic demand is somewhat lighter. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) 34% and casein prices held steady. WPC 34% spot sales are noted as keeping pace with production. 

ORGANIC DAIRY MARKETS NEWS: The USDA AMS recently awarded funding for 60 grant projects through the Organic Market Development Grant Program. Awards for 10 projects were previously announced in January, bringing the total number of projects receiving awards to 70 this year. The National Organic Program’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule’s date was implemented on March 19, 2024. The implementation of this rule updated the USDA’s organic relations providing stronger oversight and enforcement of production, handling, and sales of organic agricultural products. Organic dairy ad numbers increased during the week 12 retail dairy ad survey. The majority of organic dairy ads this week were for milk, making it the most advertised organic dairy commodity. 

NATIONAL RETAIL REPORT: Total conventional dairy advertisements increased by 9 percent, while total organic dairy ads increased by 112 percent. Conventional ice cream in 48–64-ounce containers was the most advertised dairy product, with a weighted average advertised price of $3.83, down from $3.87 the week prior. Conventional butter in one-pound packages was the second most advertised dairy product, with a weighted average advertised price of $4.32, up from $4.29 the week prior. Conventional 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese appeared in 67 percent more ads than last week, with a weighted average advertised price of $2.36, down from $2.60 last week.