(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on many sectors of the economy and livestock farming is one of them.
Closures of public spaces such as schools, restaurants, bars, and hotels mean decreased demand for meat products. In addition, outbreaks of coronavirus-caused illness at meatpacking plants caused some large operations to shut down temporarily, swamping small mom-and-pop operations that are now booked into spring 2021.
“We’re lucky in Illinois in that Smithfield only closed for five days, and nationwide we’re back to about 90 percent capacity,” said Jenny Jackson, director of communications for the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
But that still isn’t enough.
“There is no middle man,” she said a telephone interview about the size of processing plants. There are huge operations like Smithfield and small shops that can handle maybe 25 hogs a week.
“That’s a huge difference, and that’s why we swamped them so quickly,” she said. “Smithfield was down for five days, and they process over 12,000 pigs per day. So 12,000 times five. That’s how many pigs immediately didn’t have a home.”
Jackson said farmers are putting their pigs on high-fiber diets so that they don’t grow too large to be processed when their time does come. And so far, they’ve been able to avoid euthanizing animals.
They do, however, have to worry about excess meat stockpiling.
“Even if you get to the processor, it’s sitting in the warehouse someplace, in refrigerators and freezers somewhere, waiting for restaurants and foodservice and schools to open back up,” Jackson said. “So the forecasted prices are actually really really bad for the fourth quarter of 2020 because again we're gonna have too much supply and not enough demand.”
She said federal programs such as direct grants and buying food for food banks “took a little bit of the supply off our hands, so these programs have been hugely beneficial for our farmers, but it’s not enough. It will never make some whole.