The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship on April 30 announced it has formed a Resource Coordination Center to support Iowa livestock producers affected by supply chain disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 outbreaks in the employee workforce at packing plants are causing many meat processing facilities to run below normal operating capacity. Some have had to shut down, at least temporarily. That’s creating challenges for producers trying to market their animals, especially hogs.
At the end of April, nearly one-third of Iowa’s in-state daily pork processing was offline or slowed down. With nowhere to go with market-ready hogs, producers are forced to feed them longer, which is costly, and it creates a shortage of space in hog facilities when small pigs are ready to be moved in. Consequently, some larger producers have begun euthanizing some of their animals to create space.
Producers face difficult decisions
“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives, including our food supply chain,” notes Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “This is creating numerous challenges for producers and forcing them to make unimaginable decisions. We want producers to know they’re not alone. We’ve assembled a team of people who are here to connect producers with information and resources as they work through this difficult time.”
The state ag department is collaborating with public and private partners to operate the Resource Coordination Center, including the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Pork Industry Center and Iowa State University Extension.
"We’ve pulled together some of the best resources in the state to help those Iowa pig farmers who are working through these very difficult circumstances,” says IPPA President Mike Paustian, who raises pigs near Walcott in eastern Iowa. “Decisions that will be made in coming weeks must be the solution that can work best for individual farm situations. We encourage those farmers to call the RCC with questions or go to the website to look at the resources and information available.”
Fielding range of questions
“We don’t want euthanasia to happen but unfortunately producers are having to consider these difficult decisions about possibly disposing of the animals,” Naig says. “We know farmers across the state are having to really dig into this and look at their options.”
Some livestock producers are also dealing with financial questions and other issues brought on by the market disruptions. “We want farmers to know we are continuing to request support and additional financial resources from USDA,” Naig says. “We think USDA needs to continue to step up and provide additional support for farmers, especially the livestock producers who are most severely affected by this pandemic.”
A team of representatives from IDALS, IPPA and ISU Extension staff the Resource Coordination Center. While the pork industry will likely be the biggest user of RCC, other livestock producers needing help and information can call in as well.
Iowa’s pork processing has been majorly disrupted, but the egg industry in the state is also experiencing major challenges, as are dairy farmers.
“We brought the IPPA in to help staff the RCC because of the significant volume of pork-related questions, but I encourage any livestock producer who is experiencing any challenge related to COVID-19 disruptions to call in,” Naig says. “We want to talk to you and see how we can help. We’ll answer your questions and connect you with the right resources you need. That’s what this new resource center is all about — helping livestock farmers make their tough decisions.”
Connects producers to resources
“The creation of the RCC will allow both public and private organizations to mobilize their resources efficiently and effectively to help pork producers make well-informed decisions during this extremely difficult time,” says Jay Harmon, associate dean for Extension and outreach for ISU’s College of Ag and Life Sciences.
Through RCC, livestock industry experts, state agencies and technical specialists will help producers explore every option to harvest livestock and meet the food protein needs of Iowans, Harmon says. “The RCC will also connect producers with technical resources as they work through difficult and emotional decisions, including animal welfare, euthanasia and disposal.”
Iowa livestock producers can call RCC at 515-725-1005, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or fill out a help form anytime at iowafarmerhelp.com.
COVID-19 has caused supply chain disruptions that are forcing producers to make emotional and stressful decisions. If producers are feeling overwhelmed, they can call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 to get free, confidential support, 24/7.