Farms killing healthy pigs amid back­logs at plants

Orlando Sentinel - - Wall Street Report - By David Pitt

DES MOINES, Iowa — Af­ter spend­ing two decades rais­ing pigs to send to slaugh­ter­houses, Dean Meyer faces the men­tally drain­ing, phys­i­cally dif­fi­cult task of killing them be­fore they leave his north­west Iowa farm.

Meyer said he and other farm­ers across the Mid­west have been dev­as­tated by the prospect of eu­th­a­niz­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of hogs af­ter the tem­po­rary clo­sure of gi­ant pork pro­duc­tion plants due to the coro­n­avirus.

The un­prece­dented dilemma for the U.S. pork in­dus­try has forced farm­ers to fig­ure out how to kill healthy hogs and dis­pose of car­casses weigh­ing up to 300 pounds in land­fills, or by com­post­ing them on farms for fer­til­izer.

Meyer, who has al­ready killed baby pigs to re­duce his herd size, said it’s aw­ful but nec­es­sary.

“We’re dou­ble-stock­ing barns. We’re putting pigs in pens that we never had pigs in be­fore just try­ing to hold them. We’re feed­ing them di­ets that have low en­ergy just to try to stall their growth and just to main­tain,” said Meyer, who also grows corn and soy­beans on his fam­ily’s farm.

It’s all a re­sult of col­lid­ing forces as plants that nor­mally process up to 20,000 hogs a day are clos­ing be­cause of ill work­ers, leav­ing few op­tions for farm­ers rais­ing millions of hogs. Ex­perts de­scribe the pork in­dus­try as sim­i­lar to an es­ca­la­tor that ef­fi­ciently sup­plies the na­tion with food only as long as it never stops.

More than 60,000 farm­ers nor­mally send about 115 million pigs a year to slaugh­ter in the U.S. A lit­tle less than a quar­ter of those hogs are raised in Iowa, by far the big­gest pork-pro­duc­ing state.

Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that about 700,000 pigs across the na­tion can’t be pro­cessed each week and must be eu­th­a­nized. Most of the hogs are be­ing killed at farms, but up to 13,000 a day also may be eu­th­a­nized at the JBS pork plant in Wor­thing­ton, Min­nesota.

It all means that meat can’t be delivered to gro­cery stores, restau­rants that are be­gin­ning to re­open or food banks see­ing record de­mand from peo­ple sud­denly out of work. Some of that de­mand is be­ing met by high lev­els of meat in cold stor­age, but an­a­lysts say that supply will quickly dwin­dle, likely caus­ing peo­ple to soon see higher prices and less se­lec­tion.

To help farm­ers, the USDA al­ready has set up a cen­ter that can supply the tools needed to eu­th­a­nize hogs. That in­cludes cap­tive bolt guns and car­tridges that can be shot into the heads of larger an­i­mals as well as chutes, trail­ers and per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment.

On Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump used the De­fense Pro­duc­tion Act to or­der that large meat pro­ces­sors re­main open, giv­ing hog farm­ers hope the sit­u­a­tion could im­prove.

How­ever, Howard Roth, a Wis­con­sin farmer and pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Pork Pro­duc­ers Coun­cil, said farm­ers will need to keep eu­th­a­niz­ing pigs as the slaugh­ter­houses strug­gle to re­sume their full pro­duc­tion. Farm­ers will def­i­nitely need fed­eral help to keep them afloat.

“We are go­ing to need in­dem­nity money for these farm­ers,” he said. “This sit­u­a­tion is un­prece­dented.”

AARON LAVIN­SKY/STAR TRI­BUNE

Up to 13,000 hogs may be eu­th­a­nized daily at JBS pork plant in Wor­thing­ton, Min­nesota.

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