JBS issued a statement today announcing a “temporary closure” of its Greeley, Colorado, packing facility from April 15 until April 24, 2020, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The plant announced it will wind down operations for April 13-14 with reduced staff to keep product moving, then close packing operations for an additional nine days.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

Two workers from the JBS plant died in the past week, according to reports in the Greeley Tribune, with 36 workers testing positive. 

Colorado is one Western state seeing a dramatic number of COVID-19 cases, and Weld County, home of the Greeley plant, saw a recent spike with 740 total cases, and it also leads Colorado with 48 deaths. In its Monday statement, JBS said it will work with state and county authorities to follow shelter-in-place orders from Gov. Jared Polis and continue paying its team members during the plant closure. In his address Monday to the state, Polis alluded to “two or three” fatalities at the plant.

“While the Greeley beef facility is critical to the U.S. food supply and local producers, the continued spread of coronavirus in Weld County requires decisive action,” said Andre Nogueira, JBS USA CEO, in a press release. “As a leading member of this community, we believe we must do our part to support our local health professionals and first responders leading the fight against coronavirus.”

In the days prior to the April 13 announcement, JBS had been working with state officials to coordinate greater testing for COVID-19 among team members and to conduct intensive cleaning at the plant that employs 6,000 workers. JBS had pushed greater disinfection, social distancing, sick leave requirements and short-term disability allowances prior to today’s announced shutdown.


The JBS closure was a hot topic even in Washington, D.C., as Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, alluded to it in comments over the weekend. Polis said he spoke with Pence three times over the weekend on receiving testing resources for JBS plant employees and others in Weld County. “I want to emphasize that all the people who are working in food supply, from farmers to meat packers to distributors to truckers to grocers, continue to have our gratitude,” Pence said.

Two other processing plants – both in the pork industry – have idled for worker safety issues. 

Colin Woodall, CEO for NCBA, said in a statement that the two-week closure will be felt across the industry beyond just beef and cattle prices.

"Plant closures or slow-downs have significant regional and national implications that will ripple through the marketplace at a time when cattle producers are already suffering from market uncertainty and economic hardship,” Woodall said in a statement. "Every member of the beef supply chain relies on processing plants operating daily to keep product moving. America’s cattlemen and cattlewomen are hopeful that any beef processing plants which have been slowed or closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak return to full operation as quickly as possible.

“Currently, there is no shortage of beef and consumers can continue to be confident about the safety and wholesomeness of the products they are purchasing during this crisis. There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when handling or preparing foods.”

With less packer capacity at JBS, the trend of less slaughter in U.S. plants seems likely. Slaughter numbers were down the week ending before Easter and are predicted to dive further, according to CattleFax analyst Lance Zimmerman.

“USDA estimated April cattle slaughter is 51,000 head below the CattleFax forecast through [April 9],” Zimmerman wrote in an April 10 slaughter report. “For perspective, it took four months for fed cattle slaughter to fall 100,000 head below the CattleFax forecast after the Holcomb, Kansas, packing plant fire. The recent pullback in processing speed is more extreme.”

Zimmerman said the tighter supply could help some price support as the industry still tries to recover from service industry closures. But if processing loses speed because of closures, the fed cattle supply could lose some currentness.

“The longer-term risk is that gains made from an aggressive slaughter pace earlier in the year could disappear quickly over the next 30 to 60 days as the outbreak grows in prevalence across rural America,” Zimmerman added. “A 5% decline in April cattle slaughter compared to CattleFax expectations is 141,000 head. A 10% decline is 282,000 head.”

Read the JBS statement here.  end mark

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

David Cooper