Wallaces Farmer

Webinar April 29 will help answer questions about problems facing pork producers during COVID-19.

Rod Swoboda

April 27, 2020

3 Min Read
hog building
BIG LOSSES: Shutdowns at packing plants due to COVID-19 has sent hog prices tumbling and left some hog producers with nowhere to market their hogs.Rod Swoboda

Over the last couple weeks, several large pork processing plants in Iowa and surrounding states have either been shut down or have reduced processing of hogs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While the processing plants are focusing on getting their facilities running again, pork producers are faced with near-term critical problems needing attention now. 

In the current situation, pork slaughter capacity has become a limiting factor. Pork producers may be faced with an unfortunate situation of having to destroy what they have cared for and raised. The inability to process market-ready hogs could force euthanasia of swine for some producers.

Options for emergency disposal

A webinar for the pork industry has been scheduled to help everyone involved in this dilemma gain an understanding of potential options for emergency disposal of hog carcasses. The webinar at 8.a.m. April 29 is sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Six topics will be discussed:

  1. environmentally sound disposal options

  2. how compost works

  3. aboveground burial

  4. carbon feedstocks (types and amounts)

  5. windrow construction (space requirements, design and layout)

  6. windrow management and troubleshooting

Presenting during the webinar will be Mark Hutchinson, Extension educator with the University of Maine; Gary Flory, ag program manager with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; and Craig Williams, dairy team educator with Penn State Extension. There will also be opportunities to ask questions of presenters. Interested participants must preregister. Viewing details will be sent to the registered participants prior to the webinar.

Producers face tough choices

Hog and cattle prices have tumbled in recent weeks as hundreds of meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in Midwest processing plants significantly cutting production and several of them closing. “The situation could turn tragic for Iowa pork producers who face the possibility of euthanizing thousands of market-ready animals backed up on farms across the state,” says Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University ag economist.

Pork processing capacity has shrunk by about 25%, sending hog prices crashing. They’ve fallen about 50% since January. That’s especially troubling in Iowa, the nation’s largest hog producer with nearly 25 million pigs on farms across the state. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, said in a call with reporters last week that he’s heard the nation has about 100,000 pigs that should be slaughtered each day but aren’t. “Apply that over 10 days, and with a million pigs, you’ve got a big problem.”

Cattle producers are facing big financial losses too, and tough choices, but have more flexibility to hold cattle on farms longer than pork producers can hold their market-ready animals. You can multi-stock barns with piglets for a while, but as they grow and the space runs out, you’ve got to destroy the market-ready hogs to make room, or else destroy the smaller pigs that are forcing the larger hogs out of the facilities.

Barns running out of space

The Iowa Pork Producers Association says some of its members are discussing with veterinarians about euthanasia. “The breakdown in the supply chain is something pork producers are having to deal with,” says Pat McGonegle, CEO of the IPPA. Producers are asking questions about how to dispose of pigs if they’re forced to euthanize them. Rendering, composting and burial are being considered.

Producers would like to take some of hogs to nearby meat lockers to process for donation to local food banks. But the facilities aren’t big enough to handle the number of pigs for processing. “Our producers are in the business of caring for animals,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “It would be heart-wrenching to have to go through this, using euthanasia, and it underscores the seriousness of this situation.”

Read more about:

Covid 19

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda

Rod Swoboda is a former editor of Wallaces Farmer and is now retired.

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