WASHINGTON – USDA is predicting consumption of poultry will exceed consumption of red meat for the first time in the year 2018, an estimate some private economists think is conservative, according to the National Chicken Council.

USDA shows in its “Agricultural Projections to 2020” consumption of broilers, other chicken and turkeys reaching 106.7 lbs. per capita in 2018, while consumption of beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton totals 106.3 lbs. If accurate, the estimate would mark an increase of almost 7 lbs. per capita in poultry consumption over the estimates for 2011, while red meat consumption gains only one-half lb.

“Due partly to higher feed conversion rates and a shorter production process, the poultry sector adjusts faster than red meats to higher feed costs,” USDA stated. “As a result, poultry production is projected to grow throughout the decade . . . poultry meat consumption exceeds red meat consumption toward the end of the projection period.” USDA forecast last year that the lines would cross in 2019, so the current estimates represent a slight speedup in its estimate of consumption of poultry.”

“Poultry consumption will probably exceed red meat consumption well before the time forecast by USDA,” said Dr. Tom Elam, an agricultural economist. “There is no reason to think that beef production can bounce back as fast as the USDA forecast, if at all. The beef and dairy cow herds will probably shrink again in 2011. Given the breeding and growing lags, it’s about 2014 before we could see any increase in beef production or consumption at all.

“Given the shorter cycle of poultry production,” he said, “I think it’s likely that poultry consumption will continue to increase and will exceed red meat by 2015 at the latest,” he added.

Production of young chicken, ready to cook, will increase by an average of 1.65% per year from 2011 through 2020, USDA also predicts; that exports will grow from 6.65 billion lbs. this year to 6.9 billion lbs. in 2020; and that domestic consumption of broilers per capita will grow from 83 lbs. in 2011 to 91.5 lbs. in 2020.