Beef production in the first quarter of 2020 set a first quarter record. Even as retail demand for beef increased in late March as consumers prepared to shelter in place, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that beef held in cold storage at the end of March 2020 was 11% above last year and 2% above the previous month. Since its peak in late March, federally inspected beef production fell almost 32% through the week ending April 25 as the rate of cattle slaughter declined at several beef packing facilities.

The slowdown in cattle slaughter limited beef production at these facilities where operations temporarily closed or shifts were reduced due to labor force absences caused by the spread of COVID-19. At a time when cattle slaughter numbers increase seasonally, cattle slaughter rates for the week ending April 25 were down 28% year-over-year.

As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to evolve quickly, the Economic Research Service continues to closely monitor the latest USDA data and industry news. Some of this information is discussed in the Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Monthly Outlook report from April 2020 and is updated using data from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service.