Plunging sales and plant closures are all creating a crisis right now for the pork industry. Hogs are stacking up on farms with farmers scrambling to find places to process them as the value per hog plummets.
The Tyson Foods pork plant in Logansport, Ind., will voluntarily close while its more than 2,200 team members undergo testing for COVID-19. That pork processing facility supports more than 250 independent family farmers across nine states.
The Tyson Foods Waterloo, Iowa plant also suspended its operations this week. That plant processes roughly 19,500 hogs per day. It’s roughly 4% of the entire U.S. pork processing capacity.
Tyson saying the closure contributes to further disruption of the nation's pork supply and it's another hit to pork producers, especially in Iowa, the largest pork producing state in the nation.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said he talked with both President Trump and Vice President Pence over the weekend about his concerns.
“I’m particularly worried about the health and safety of meat packing employees,” says Grassley. “During my call with Vice President [Mike Pence], I asked for a surge of tests for Iowa to address our meatpacking outbreaks. I think I had a positive response from him.”
Grassley says he wants to keep facilities open to limit the supply chain disruption for farmers and consumers. He also says the market disruptions are concerning and remind him of the 1980s farm crisis.
“The last time I saw this sort of uncertainty was during the 1980s agricultural depression,” says Grassley.
Brady Reicks and his family have a farrow to finish operation in Northeast Iowa. They sell hogs to multiple customers, one of them is the Tyson Foods Waterloo plant.
“Tyson is working with us to re-route to some of the plants that they have in other locations,” says Brady Reicks of Reicks View Farms in Lawler, Iowa. “Of course, they’re trying to do that for everyone.”
Reicks says the plant has been slowing down for several days. Therefore, they thought the closure would happen. It’s a big hit to an operation which produces 1.3 to 1.4 million hogs a year.
“It is difficult,” says Reicks. “Re-routing can help but we are still probably this week, going to only market 30 percent of what we projected. So, it’s an issue.”
Most of the plants were already at capacity before the closures. Reicks says their hogs have been rerouted to Iowa and Illinois plants.
“I will say, when we’ve worked with our packer customers, they are doing everything they can to reroute these [hogs],” Reicks says.
Some of the hogs intending to be harvested at the plant in Waterloo and Logansport were able to be diverted. Some of those are diverted to the Tyson Foods Columbus Junction, Iowa plant reopened after being shuttered since April 6. However, since hogs are being re-routed from other plants, some producers who normally haul to Columbus Junction, can’t deliver hogs.
“Waterloo and Logansport are also closed down,” says Kurt Alvine, a hog producer who lives near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. “Those pigs are all coming to Junction as well or at least some of them. I thought he said they are only killing 4,000 to 5,000 per day right now until they get ramped up. [My buyer] didn’t give me any timeframe at all to when they would be able to take from me.”
Alvine says his pigs are growing too big. He hopes he doesn’t get docked in price since they aren’t sent to market as soon as they should due to packing plant closures.
“I [have] probably 200 head in total [rerouted to other plants] over the last two weeks since Columbus Junction has been closed. My building should have been empty yesterday. I’ve got close to 800 scheduled. I have no idea when they’re going to let me bring them.”
He says his pigs in the nursery are getting too big for it. Thankfully, he has some flexibility. The sow unit he buys pigs from is going to try to adjust.