As the impacts of African swine fever in Asia fade, pork will lead a global animal protein production surge in 2021. Locally, however, production growth will be limited, as Australia’s beef and sheep producers focus firmly on rebuilding stock numbers.
In its just-released Global Animal Protein Outlook 2021, agribusiness specialist Rabobank says China’s initial recovery from African swine fever (ASF) would emerge as the biggest driver of growth in the global animal protein sector in the year ahead – while also representing the greatest risk for global trade.
Rabobank senior animal protein analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said production growth was expected across most key animal protein markets around the world in 2021, and within most species, after a challenging 2020.
“Pork production is expected to grow faster than its protein counterparts in 2021, driven by the ASF recovery in China and Vietnam, while poultry and aquaculture are also expected to grow based on post-COVID-19 improvements to foodservice,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.
Beef should return to modest growth, he said, led by increased production in North America and Brazil, while wild-catch seafood would go against the growth trend, with a small decline expected due to climatic conditions and reduced quotas.
With the smallest cattle herd in over 25 years and favourable seasonal conditions, the report said Australia’s beef production would be restricted in 2021, with slaughter numbers to dip slightly from 2020.
Despite this, Mr Gidley-Baird said improved pastoral conditions would increase average carcase weights, leading to a small lift in both production and exports in 2020.
Ongoing competition from producers, feedlotters and processors would also ensure cattle prices remained strong, although prices would ease as numbers build.
“Continued high female slaughter rates in 2020 and high livestock prices suggests a focus by producers on trading cattle rather than retaining them for breeding, and we expect herd rebuilding activities to extend into 2021,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.
Australian lamb slaughter was however expected to increase in 2021, despite the country’s smallest sheep flock in over 75 years.
“Better breeding conditions and an increased focus on lamb production will drive increased lamb slaughter and, while carcase weights are expected to remain steady, production and, in turn, exports should grow,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.
Domestic demand for sheep and flock rebuilding was forecast to remain firm, with export demand key to lamb pricing. And, with softer economic conditions prices –would be lower than in 2020, although remaining good, he said.
African swine fever driving change
Globally, recovery from ASF in China would be the major factor impacting the animal proteins sector in the year ahead, the report said.
China’s pig herd started its recovery in 2020 after nearly halving in size the previous year due to ASF, and would continue to grow strongly in 2021, Mr Gidley-Baird said.
While ASF still threatens many of China’s smaller pork producers – who make up about half of the production – Rabobank expects the ongoing recovery would see the 2021 herd inventory reach above 80 per cent of pre-ASF levels.
ASF still remained active across the globe, with Germany continuing to manage an outbreak detected in September 2020, Mr Gidley-Baird said. And further herd losses were likely in the Philippines and also Vietnam, where, despite sporadic outbreaks in 2020, there was still expected to be an increase in pork production in 2021.
China to dominate global trade
Despite the recovery in China’s domestic pork production, Chinese imports of pork, poultry, beef, and seafood will continue to dominate global trade, the report says.
And, as such, any irregular swings from China could have significant consequences for producers and markets.
“Changes in China’s import policies, shifts in China’s commitment under the Phase One Trade Deal with the US or moves to avoid human or animal health risks could all present trade issues in the coming year,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.
Mr Gidley-Baird said recovery from COVID-19 would also impact the global animal protein market in 2021, with issues surrounding foodservice recovery, labour availability costs, supply chain transformations and food safety creating both opportunity and risk.
In the beef sector, Mr Gidley-Baird said, labour availability and cost would remain the most pressing challenge for global beef processing and production.
“Given the higher cost and reduced opportunities in foodservice, margin squeeze will also be a challenge, however foodservice recovery will help lift these margins, particularly for higher-value beef cuts served in restaurants,” he said.
Reduced global poultry demand due to the economic downturn in some importing countries had impacted trade and created the need for more focus on domestic consumers, but Mr Gidley-Baird said foodservice recovery would help balance out supply and demand.
Similarly the global pork market would shift its focus away from exports towards local consumers, mainly due to ASF but also COVID-19.
“Global seafood trade has been greatly affected by COVID-19, and the market risk will be ongoing pending foodservice recovery and improved demand – sectors such as shrimp are yet to recover from trade disruptions.” he said.
However post COVID-19 opportunities would also emerge, Mr Gidley-Baird said, largely on the back of foodservice recovery and the rise of e-commerce direct-to-consumer trends.
Technology and innovation for a more sustainable sector
‘Tech innovations’ – such as methane-reducing additives which improved feed efficiency, or traceability to mitigate animal disease risk and offer supply chain transparency – exemplified an increasing focus on sustainability and productivity in animal protein, the report said
These technologies, Mr Gidley-Baird said, would enable and accelerate commercial adoption into 2021 – helping drive environmental, social and economic sustainability.
The increasing role that the market and regulators would play in improving the sustainability of the animal protein supply chain would also become clearer in 2021, Mr Gidley-Baird said, with the number of animal protein, food retail and foodservice companies making commitments to a lower environmental footprint likely to grow.