USDA has again revised its 2009 broiler production estimate downward. USDA now looks for broiler production to be 35.8 billion pounds, down 3.1 percent from 2008 levels. Fewer birds are already making their way to slaughter, the agency reports.

Broiler meat production for January was 2.87 billion pounds, down 11.3 percent from January 2008. USDA expects that trend to continue for February and March, estimating first-quarter production will drop to 8.63 billion pounds, which would be down 5.7 percent from the period a year ago. Average bird weights are expected to change little.

USDA reduced broiler meat production estimates for the second through fourth quarters to reflect weekly chick placement numbers that are trending well below 2008 levels. This will, of course, reduce the number of birds available for slaughter.

Declining meat demand has pushed broiler prices lower as well, as breast meat product prices are down from last year, USDA reports. U.S. per-capita broiler meat consumption is at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2003.

Broiler export shipments have remained strong, increasing 33 percent in January from 2008's level, reflecting greater demand from Russia, China and Mexico. "The strength in broiler exports, even with a worldwide economic downturn, may be due to chicken's relatively low prices compared with beef and pork products," the agency said.

But weak economic conditions and a lower import quota in Russia will temper export demand, with USDA forecasting total 2009 U.S. broiler exports down 13 percent to 6.05 billion pounds from 2008's record level.

Source: USDA, Meatingplace.com