How much more will retail consumers be willing to pay for poultry and meat? A good question, says John Anderson, American Farm Bureau Federation deputy chief economist

There is, he says, “a lot of talk about consumer resistance to higher retail meat prices. We’ve got already record high retail beef and broiler prices, and pork is bouncing around near record levels.

“I think consumers are starting to balk a bit at some of the prices,” Anderson said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

“To overcome that, I think the economic situation needs to improve so consumers will become more optimistic and allow us to squeeze out a bit more on the retail side.

“Barring that, it’s going to be tough to move much beyond where we are now on retail prices — and I think this will be the biggest limit in the meat sector.”

Poultry integrators “lost a lot of money 2010 and by the end of the year were really slamming on the brakes in terms of expansion, which continued into early 2012, Anderson says.

“We were starting to see some expansion of chick placements in 2012, with numbers higher than we’d have expected to see seasonally, which indicated to me that at least some of the integrators were interested in starting to get their numbers back up and claim more market share.

“But when corn prices shot up, they seemed to pull the plug more quickly than we’d normally see, and dropped back to normal seasonal chick placement levels. They went from expansion to a let’s-hold-what-we’ve-got mentality.

“Through early December, we’ve been well below where we were at the same point in 2011.”