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Hog farmers ask what to do next?

By Staff | May 3, 2020

When the chairman of the largest United States meat company warns of potential meat shortages for consumers, saying the country’s complex food chain was ‘breaking’ because of the spread of COVID-19, people take notice.

As workers at meat processing plants test positive for coronavirus, many of those plants have been forced to shut down.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported U.S. packing plants killed 25 percent fewer cattle and 20 percent fewer hogs on Friday, April 24 compared to one year ago.

The plant closings have left some who raise animals for meat consumption without a way to market their livestock.

Lori Stevermer of Easton, who sits on the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) board of directors, acknowledges there is a lot happening right now and things can change in a hurry.

“We (NPPC) are looking at three key elements to help producers through this difficult time,” Stevermer says. “First thing we want to do is get the packing plants open and running at some capacity.”

She explains this has meant initially reaching out to senators, representatives and the secretary of agriculture and eventually the president.

Next she says it is important to work with all of the different types of programs which are currently available.

“Unfortunately a cap limit of $125,000 per commodity in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) does not go very far in terms of covering dollars which are being lost,” she explains.

The third element the NPPC is undertaking is working on a plan to help producers depopulate.

“This could include working with packing plants and helping farmers find resources to handle their situation,” Stevermer says. “But, we have to be able to have safe working conditions for those working in the plants. We are working with the Department of Health to see what measures can be implemented to improve the safety for the workers.”

Progress has already been made is some areas. According to news reports, on Tuesday, April 28, President Donald Trump cited the Defense Production Act in signing an executive order which essentially forces meat production plants to stay open.

U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota was part of a group of 53 members of Congress who sent a letter to President Trump requesting improvements to pork producer aid offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Additionally, the letter requests support by opening up existing programs for pork producers.

“Our pork, beef and poultry producers are stepping up to meet their critical role in maintaining America’s food supply, even during this pause in our economy that has created historically low demand and commodity prices.” Hagedorn said. “Congress and the USDA must work together to fund key programs to reimburse farmers who are on the brink due to no fault of their own and sustain agriculture and our rural way of life. We appreciate our farmers, processors, truckers, grocery store folks and all who keep America fed with an array of quality choices at affordable prices.”

In the meantime, the University of Minnesota Extension Service has put together a list of items for producers to implement to aid in dealing with the current situation.

The list includes steps producers can take to decrease growth rates in their animals including changing diets to reduce energy intake, restricting access to feed and raising barn temperatures to reduce the animal’s feed intake. For more information people may visit their website, www.extension.umn.edu/news.