In recent weeks, the U.S. has seen closures among a number of its poultry processing facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving producers without a market for their products and raising consumer concerns over an impending shortage.
Though the poultry processing facilities in the Eastern Panhandle haven’t yet seen the same outbreaks or closures, West Virginia University Extension Service experts Joe Moritz and Alexandria Smith weigh in on the current struggles West Virginia poultry producers are facing as a result of COVID-19.
“The Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia is home to significant chicken and turkey production. The broiler chickens produced here are destined for small bird markets, like the fast food industry. However, COVID-19 has significantly decreased demand for fast food poultry products.”
“Poultry production entails significant planning – timing is essential. Birds that were intended to meet fast food demand have been without a market. One solution could be to try to slow birds down or even grow birds longer to generate larger birds for a different market, but that comes with its own complexities. A last resort, which some states have already had to do, is to depopulate birds.”
“Current planning could include decreasing the number of eggs being set and therefore, the number of birds in a single barn, but with the reopening of West Virginia and surrounding states, this could then contribute to a market shortage.” – Joe Moritz, professor and poultry specialist, WVU Extension Service
“Our producers here in the region who work with Pilgrim’s Pride are facing uncertainty. Since the fast food contracts can’t take the products, it’s causing a major surplus. Even our local grocery stores are selling fresh chicken at rock-bottom prices. Many of our farmers fully depend on their poultry checks. A broken supply chain would crush many small farming communities.”
“As far as safety at the Pilgrim’s Pride facility, they are doing as much as they can to keep workers healthy. All workers must go through a checkpoint when they come in, have their temperatures taken and then wash their hands before starting their shifts. They’re required to wear masks, gloves and continue practicing social distancing inside the facility. The issues our West Virginia producers are facing aren’t currently related to a processing plant closure, but it’s important to our community to try to prevent that – it would only worsen the situation.” – Alexandria Smith, assistant professor and agriculture and natural resources agent in Hardy County, WVU Extension Service
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