A bit more meat and poultry moved into supply chain freezers in February, as USDA’s latest Cold Storage Report, reflecting supplies as of Feb. 28, showed an increase of 2 percent from the previous month and 6 percent from last year.

For pork, frozen supplies grew by 6.7 percent from January levels and 8.6 percent from the same period a year ago. Pork belly stocks increased 15 percent from January and 21 percent from February 2011.

“The frozen numbers are not surprising,” says Ron Plain, agricultural economist, University of Missouri.

He does point out that the February numbers reflect the 15th consecutive month that supplies exceeded year-ago levels, and it’s the most pork in cold storage since May 2008. In fact, it’s the most pork in storage at the end of February for many years. But what does that really mean?

Rather than reflecting potential supplies of pork destine to eventually land on the domestic market, as had been the case in years past, cold storage supplies today more often reflect export expectations. “In recent years there has been a positive correlation between frozen pork and pork exports,” Plain says. He points out that the higher pork stock numbers are an indication of pork being accumulated for export.

As for pork’s competing meats, USDA reported a 1.4 percent increase in frozen beef stocks versus a year ago. Compared to January, the supply dropped 3.9 percent.

Plain points out that February’s frozen beef stocks have exceeded year-ago levels for the 16th consecutive month. Still, between solid exports and drought-induced herd culling, beef supplies will continue to run tight overall.

For poultry, total frozen stocks at the end of February, increased 5 percent from January’s levels, but dropped 6 percent below February 2011.

Chicken in cold storage was down 16.3 percent from year ago levels and down 1.3 percent from a month earlier. February marks the 7th consecutive month that frozen chicken supplies dropped below year-ago levels, Plain points out. That’s the lowest frozen chicken stocks recorded at the end of February since 2004.

“I suspect this reflects the drop in chicken production that we’ve seen in recent months,” Plain says. Broiler producers have cut production in an effort to quell losses experienced primarily by high feed costs.

As for turkey, February’s frozen supply was reported to be 21.2 percent higher than in 2011, and 17.6 percent higher than in January. That means turkey supplies in cold storage were above year-ago levels for the 4th consecutive month. “It’s the most frozen turkey stocks at the end of February since 2009,” Plain notes.

To review USDA’s full Cold Storage Report for February, click here.