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It is estimated that every dollar of agriculture export value generates an additional $1.48 in supporting industries, roughly $171 billion in added value last year alone.

African swine fever drives global protein shortage to a critical level in 2020

Date: 10/16/2019

Simon Quilty

I believe we are looking at a critical global protein shortage next year due to the impact of African swine fever driven by China as well as nine other Asian countries. These nine other countries will also add to next years genuine global protein shortage. Such shortages are likely to lead to a substantial increase in prices across all proteins, and I see beef in particular having the largest price increase globally compared to pork and chicken in 2020.

Last week the USDA released its 'World Market and Trade Report' which outlined their outlook on global demand for beef, pork and chicken for 2020 - briefly, they are forecasting global beef production to be 1% higher in 2020, global pork production to fall 10% and global chicken production to be at 4% higher next year - in physical meat terms across all three meat types this equates to a deficit in 2020 of 6.4 million tonnes (carcase weight, CW) compared to this year, this I believe is largely attributed to African swine fever's impact on Asia, and as stated will no doubt lead to higher global meat prices in 2020.

China has clearly become the engine room of global protein demand with the USDA's forecasting global protein exports increasing by 6% in 2020 or 2 million tonnes, this clearly falls well short of the 6.4 million tonne global deficit they have forecast. Yet even with this major protein shortfall I believe the losses in China are likely to be far greater than the USDA's conservative estimates and that a global protein deficit of 18 million tonnes is more likely with little to no ability for global meat production to respond with increased global exports.

Key points in this paper

  • Due to African swine fever the USDA's estimate of a global protein shortfall is 6.4 M tonnes in 2020, this is based on China's pork production falling 25% next year. I think a more realistic fall in China's pork production in 2020 is 54% which would mean a global protein deficit of three times USDA's estimate equating to an 18 M tonne deficit in 2020.

  • China piglet prices continue to surge increasing 151% compared to this time last year.

  • China pork carcase prices have spike to a record RMB 39.76/KG, 15.25% higher than the previous week and 131 % higher than the same time last year - Chinese hog margins are at US$354/head and potentially going higher.

  • The number of global China beef approved export establishments are 285 compared to pork plants approved of 207 since Canada's delisting, which has seen 39 pork and 13 beef establishments removed - this points to a genuine desire by China to buy more beef globally.

  • USDA China's import estimates in 2020 I believe fall short of what will be done - USDA estimate China pork imports will be up 35%, beef imports up 21% and chicken imports up 20% on this years imports - my estimates are much higher with pork 40% higher, beef 57% higher and chicken 66% higher. My estimates add another 1 million tonnes (CW) of imports to China and yet I believe this still falls short of China's needs but does highlight the greater global pressure that will exist for protein next year.

  • A rising tide lifts all boats - the net affect of China's protein deficiency is a 12% fall in protein consumption or 8.4 million tonnes, my own estimates based on larger hog losses and a more aggressive import program results in a 28% protein loss or a 20.2 million fall in China's consumption - simply because the meat is not availble within China and globally.

  • This years estimated 4% decline in China's total protein availability has seen an average increase in China's domestic retail protein prices of 62% - with China's retail pork prices up 81%, beef up 19%, sheep meat up 20 % and chicken 23% higher compared to this time last year.

  • In 2020, I have predicted the volume of China's total beef imports will exceed total pork imports for the first time ever as the accelerated increase in beef imports continues, this flies in the face of convention with beef imports worth almost twice the value of pork and chicken and has a much slower production response time - I oue the reasons in this report of why this is occurring.

  • The tightest global beef item in 2020 will be cow meat, and in particular lean grinding meat as Australia's cow herd diminishes from the impact of drought with female kills predicted to fall 27% and Australia's total export volume to fall 20 % next year.

  • Similarly, New Zealand role in supplying global grinding meat will diminish next year as the cuts that once were sold as lean hamburger trimmings are now being upgraded to individual cuts into China who are paying a 10-20 usc/lb premium for these items over the US, Japan and Korea. This trend has been occurring for the last 2 years but the volume of cow cuts is now growing dramatically as less Indian buffalo enters the grey channel and as China's protein deficit gets greater.

  • Australia has entered I believe a new cattle price cycle that will last for at least four years and will see cattle prices rise for the next two years, with cow prices being the first mover due to both the severe liquidation in Australia's cow herd and the strong global prices for cow meat that will underpin livestock prices in Australia for many years to come.

  • I am forecasting a 20% fall in Australia's beef exports in 2020 which will see a dramatic change in volumes that Australia ships to certain markets, I see lower shipments to all key beef markets except China. In short, I am forecasting Australia's beef exports to Japan to fall 34%, Korea to fall 30% and US to fall 24% next year - China will be the only exception with beef exports 10% higher, making China our largest market globally for 2020 by a long shot.

  • The phenomena of China buying away traditional items from Japan, US and Korea is unlikely to change for many years to come as beef becomes critical in filling the pork protein deficit caused by African swine fever.

China's losses and needs are greater I believe than USDA's estimates.

The most contentious aspect of the USDA forecast is the fall in pork production for next year which they have at 25% on this years production and 35% compared to 2018 production levels - there is no doubt that the fear of African swine fever led to a surge in production in China in the first half of this year as farmers brought their hogs to market early believing it was best to sell them for something than get nothing - which has seen 2019 production higher than expected but importantly an emptying pork supply pipeline that has followed.

It is the accelerated loss in herd inventory in recent months, the strong anecdotal evidence of large regional losses of greater than 80%, high hog prices and piglet prices that I am truly of the opinion that 70% inventory loss is a realistic estimate. The ongoing high culling losses in Vietnam to me validate these figures with the same accelerated rate of losses occurring. I also appreciate that there will be a strong desire to rebuild in China but in reality this will be difficult without controlling the disease.

Last week, China piglet prices were at RMB 62.90/KG, which is 5% higher than the previous week and 151% higher than the same time last year, according to China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Department. At the same time the tightness in China's pork supply has seen wholesale price of pork carcase spike to a record RMB 39.76/KG, 15.25% higher than the previous week and 131 % higher than the same time last year, according to Beijing Xinfadi Market, China's largest northern livestock market. As a result Chinese hog margins are at US$354/head and potentially going higher with tight supplies and high retail prices - what few pigs remain means those that own them are making large profits.

China's growing demand for beef is the most interesting phenomena in the last 12 months with the number of global plants approved by China for beef exports is at 285 establishments and is well exceeding global pork approved plants of 207 establishments. China's approval for global beef plants have increased by 17 and global pork approvals have actually fallen due to Canada's ban with 39 pork and 13 beef plants being delisted.

As stated I believe a more realistic loss of 54% in China's pork production is more likely though other market participants talk of 60-70% losses in 2020. Vice Premier Wu has stated that the deficit by year end would be close to 10 million tonnes and said that pork buying would be restricted for the last quarter of 2019 and the first half of 2020. If I am correct then the realistic shortfall in 2020 could well be closer to 15 - 20 million tonnes.

USDA have estimated China's import increases for next year as follows; pork imports up 35%, beef up 21% and chicken up 20% on 2019 imports, in contrast my estimates are for imports being; pork up 40%, beef up 57% and chicken up 66% - my estimates add another 1 million tonnes (CW) of imports to China and yet I believe this will still be well short of China's needs.

With an additional one million tonnes coming into China this will see tighter supplies elsewhere as beef, pork and chicken are rediverted from other markets in 2020 into China. The following are my estimates on the these revised global beef imports - I have kept global beef availability but refocused on a greater volume of imports into China next year.

The lack of available grinding meat globally I have impacting the US the most with imports down close to 27% with Australia and New Zealand being the countries impacting this the most. I see US beef exports displacing Australian beef into both Japan and Korea as Australia's exports to China increases by 10% and falls to all other destinations due to lower production.

A rising tide lifts all boats

China's expected high import needs on all proteins will see tightening of pork, beef and chicken globally and rising prices across all protein export markets. I have outlined below my own forecasts versus the USDA with regard to pork shortages in China for 2020 which they put at 35% for next year compared to 2018 base year and I am working off a 60% loss for same period - the USDA and my own difference in protein imports I have added to the balance sheet. The net affect is the USDA China protein balance sheet forecast in 2020 a 12% fall in protein consumption in China or 8.4 M tonnes, my own estimates based on larger hog losses and a more aggressive import program results in a 28% protein loss or a 20.2 million protein deficit in China.

A 'rising tide lifts all boats' and no matter what figures you look at, my figures or the USDA - the dramatic short-fall in 2020 protein will be sizeable and is likely to lift all protein prices as the expression illustrates.

China responds with rising retail prices

This is best illustrated by this years 4% decline in China's total protein (as per both tables above) this has seen an average increase in China domestic retail protein prices of 62% and a 28% increase across the average of pork, beef and poultry import values. This increase is based on a 4% deficit - it is hard to imagine what this will look like with a 12% deficit (USDA) let alone a 28% deficit (MLX) but higher prices to me seems inevitable.

In 2020 I have predicted the volume of imported beef exceeding imported pork even though China's pork deficit is so much greater than beef and chicken - beef also has the slowest production time to respond and is the most expensive to buy of the three proteins - so why China's love affair with beef?

Why does China have a love affair with beef?

As stated I have got some very aggressive China import beef figures for 2020 with beef imports increasing by 57% next year on the back of a 62% increase this year. I have therefore maintained the trend of this year.

There is no doubt that imported beef is outperforming pork, poultry and sheep meat in terms of volume percentage increase but also in terms of sheer volume amount with beef imports up by 310,000 MT compared to pork which is 264, 000 higher than last year. I am estimating in 2020 that China beef imports will exceed pork imports for the first time ever.

It should be noted that the value of beef imports on average is almost twice the value of pork and poultry imports and yet China has a real preference for imported beef even though the other two proteins have a faster production ability and are much better value for money.

So why China's love affair with beef?

The simple answers I believe are:

  • An expanding middle class who see beef (and sheepmeat) as a status symbol above pork and poultry - the more beef in China's diet reinforces an improved standard of living which the Chinese government would want to promote.

  • China is possibly realising that with ASF spreading globally that pork and poultry will be in demand by other affected countries and they have made there focus on beef.

  • The ability for poultry expansion is high internally and therefore the focus is on imported beef.

  • Due to African swine fever the demand for pork has fallen, estimates are 15-25% with beef being consumers preferred choice. What is unclear whether this is a short term down turn in demand for pork and therefore how sustainable is beef imports at this rate? My thoughts are that beef imports will remain strong for at least 5 years.

  • Beef is seen to be less susceptible to diseases globally with pork and poultry supply often disrupted due to disease outbreaks.

  • As stated earlier the number of approved global beef establishments are 285 compared to 207 pork establishments - clearly pointing to a preference for imported beef.

  • The grey channel on Indian buffalo has slowed and left a deficit of 70,000 MT this year so far in China of beef which is adding to the overall beef shortage.

The trend in falling grey trade buffalo imports via Vietnam will be tested over the next 3-4 months as we move into the Chinese New Year buying period (Jan 25th, 2020) - last year there was a very apparent step away from buying buffalo beef and it if this occurs again I believe the direct imports of cow meat from Australia and New Zealand will play a crucial role in filling the void left by less buffalo meat.

So far the Indian buffalo shipments to Vietnam are down 20% y-o-y but if the exports remain low then I have estimated that overall exports for 2019 to be down 25% from 2018 or the equivalent of 145,000 MT which will as stated potentially be filled by cow/bull meat from New Zealand and Australia over the next 3-4 months at the expense of the US market.

Australia's cow scarcity in 2020 will add to a global shortage of beef The drought in Australia is unrelenting with regards the liquidation of the Australian herd and in particular cows as Australia's female kill once again is at a record level of liquidation of 55% - the percentage is falling in line with a seasonal fall but it does beg the question - what does this mean for 2020 in terms of lower Australian global beef exports and the insatiable demand from China which all points to potentially a global shortage of beef and in particular, grinding beef I believe.

Australian production shortage in 2020

The impact of the high female kill is likely to see female kills in 2020 fall by almost 28%, male kills fall almost 9% with a net fall in Australia's total kill of close to 19%. This is likely to see a further retraction of Australia's herd as the market looks to rebuild. It is not unusual to see fertility rates fall the first year after a drought but I am of the opinion that these falls in production will occur with or without the drought breaking due to the critically low herd size that will be close to 24.5 million head by mid 2020 - a 30 year low.

Impact on Australia's cow prices

The flow on affect of the drought breaking and strong global markets has been that cow livestock prices are likely to remain strong and rally even higher as Australia enters the next cattle price cycle.

Even though it has not rained the value of cows has started to move higher and sits 20% higher today than the average cow price of 2018. We saw a similar phenomena in 2014 where Australia was in drought and still cattle prices moved higher - this is because the female herd size was at a critical low level and global meat prices were firm - demand out stripped supply and saw cow prices go higher with restricted supply and strong global demand - just as we are seeing today.

Low Australian production means low beef exports

Low Australian beef production means beef exports will fall w**hich I have estimated to be 20% in 2020, and in particular shipments of lean meat will fall the most as cow slaughterings fall to critically low levels - lean meat shipments could be more like 30-40% lower next year particularly when the rain comes.

The lower production and the combined increased demand from China and the inability of others to compete is likely to see a dramatic change next year in shipment volumes and who gets what.

Australia's beef exports are likely to lose market share (except China) next year - 2020 forecasts

When assessing the impact of the lower shipments, the increase in China demand and the potential displacement by US beef of Australian beef into Japan and Korea - I see almost all Australian beef markets next year falling in terms of market share with China being the only exception which I am expecting to be 10% higher. The other market which is likely to see displacement also is Indonesia where Brazil beef and Indian buffalo are likely to displace Australian beef.

Given the lack of cows being slaughtered in Australia this will lead to dramatic falls in lean grinding meat in particular - items like 85 CL, 90 CL and 95 CL I expect will tighten dramatically from Australia. There are two key reasons why this will occur

  • Firstly, falling livestock numbers will mean simply less production but the biggest loss has been females and with a rebuild these will be tight for many years.

  • Secondly, what items are produced are going to China as whole cuts - once upon a time these items would have been sent as trimmings to Japan, US and Korea and used to make ground beef for hamburgers and other similar items. China is now taking them as value added items as individually wrapped cuts at significantly higher money than any other market.

China's influence is on most beef items taking them away from traditional markets in both Australia and New Zealand.

Australia's key markets have changed One of the key concerns for Japan, Korea and the US is that China will take product away from each of these destinations. In the past many items like round cuts would have gone to the US as grinding meat but today due to China's strong demand these cuts are being value added and resulting in a shortage to the traditional markets such as Japan, Korea and the US. The following graphs highlight the enormous increase in round cuts to China namely at the expense of Korea and the US and also the lower volume of grinding meat that is available due to the upgrading of items from trim to cuts. Please note that the majority of growth in the graph of 65CL/75CL/80CL?briskets has been in the brisket market.

New Zealand key markets have changed

A similar phenomena is happening out of New Zealand whereby China is now taking 55% of their beef exports with the majority of these shipments being cow and bull meat in the form of cuts. What is interesting to note is that China's market share has gone up 133% and almost all other markets imports have dropped with the US notably falling 35% compared to the same month last year losing its status as New Zealand's number one export market. Japan is the only exception and has remained at 5%.


The fact that there is a looming global protein shortage in 2020 I don't believe is in question - the only uncertainty to me is the size of the deficit with the USDA estimating a 6.4 million tonne shortfall and I am of the opinion it could be three times greater than this of close to 18 million tonnes globally.

The reason for the discrepancy is how we each interpret the losses in China due to African swine fever - the USDA have been conservative since August last year in the impact of the disease and at times I believe the backdrop of the China/US trade war has made at times the degree of difficulty in analysing so much greater.

I have been of the opinion for the last 12 months that the impact of the disease has been dramatic within China and Asia and that the losses of surrounding countries such as Vietnam has given us a transparent window into what the real rate of hog losses are within China - the estimate I give of a 54% loss in production next year versus the USDA's 25% loss is an important difference with enormous ramifications - I truly believe my estimate is far more accurate and as a result will have an enormous impact for the global protein balance sheet for 2020 and beyond.

I have so often been asked what will be the impact on export prices due to the protein deficit in 2020, in this paper we have seen the difference in retail prices versus import values which are quite dramatic and we also know that hog prices in China are three times the value of US hog prices. So I have given an extremely wide indication of where potential prices will head ranging from 20% to 150% higher based on which protein and the time of year.

The issue I have is that I have never in 30 years of trading seen such a global protein deficit before and I know of no other precedent in the last 100 years that rivals this situation - so to me these are uncharted waters that is likely to see many records broken whether its for protein prices, protein volume flows to certain countries or changes in consumer buying patterns of proteins - nothing will ever be quite the same again after August 4th last year when African swine fever first appeared in China.

Any feedback is always welcome.


Simon [email protected]

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It is estimated that every dollar of agriculture export value generates an additional $1.48 in supporting industries, roughly $171 billion in added value last year alone.