At the beginning of the year, thing seemed pretty optimistic for the hog industry. Domestic demand was good, export demand was outstanding, and China was on board to buy more, AgriTalk’s Chip Flory says. But now?
“It feels like the rug was pulled out from underneath it with the challenges we’re facing now,” Flory says.
“It's been a rough couple years here. We've been fighting a lot of trade disruptions and other things. And you’re spot on when you say there was a lot of optimism going into the start of this year, everybody was looking forward to what they thought was going to be kind of a recovery year for the industry,” says Mike Paustian, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “And yeah, lo and behold, things have not turned out the way we thought, and we find ourselves in in an even worse spot [due to COVID-19] than we had been.”
The million-dollar question right now is how close is the processing market back to running at capacity? Every day that it’s not running 100% is a day that hogs are added to the backlog, Paustian says.
“It's very troubling for producers right now to be in a situation where we're, just taking it week to week—if not day to day—just trying to figure out when things are going to get back on track. Nobody can really give you a for sure answer on how big the backlog is, but, some good minds have done math and estimated that it could be as much as 100,000 hogs just in the state of Iowa. And if you're talking nationwide, you're talking maybe 2 million animals. It's a big hurdle to overcome, and it's going to take months. This is not something that's going to be resolved in a few weeks by any stretch,” Paustian says.
What should producers do who faced with the difficult decision to euthanize their hogs, Flory asks. What kind of assistance and support is available?
“This is not something that most producers spend a lot of time thinking about how to mass depopulate and dispose so it's not something producers are necessarily equipped to do,” Paustian says. “But here in Iowa, we've been blessed to have great support from Governor Reynolds and Secretary [of Agriculture] Naig, and also our partners that at Iowa State. They have all gone together along with the Iowa Pork Producers Association to put together a central hub, or resource coordination center that is available for producers who have any kind of question whether it's, how to change their feed rations to slow their pigs down so they don't get too big, to euthanasia and disposal,” Paustian says.
“it's not going to be a one size fits all solution. My heart goes out to the producers who have found themselves in that situation already. But, those of us who haven't, we're losing sleep at night because we recognize that we don't know how long this is going to drag on, and we could all find ourselves in that situation at some point. It's not fun to think about but, it is something we need to plan for,” he continues.
Flory stresses the importance for hog producers to know that they’re not alone and they have people in their corner to support them in this difficult time.
“Most producers are pretty independent and pretty self-reliant, and it's hard to ask for help. And it might be hard for them to recognize that they do need some help. I would really just encourage producers to reach out to your friends, fellow producers, just check in on them see how they're doing. It’s, it's often helpful just to realize that you're not the only one who's struggling with this, you're not the only one who's going through a tough time,” Paustian agrees.
It’s also important to celebrate the bright spots during this time, of producers and communities coming together to support one another.
“Producers are partners in the food supply chain. Everyone has just stepped up and said, ‘Ok, let's, let's figure this out. Let's, let's save as many of these animals as we can keep them in the food supply.’ Whether that's selling pigs on Facebook, whether it's donating them to the food pantries, whether it's making contacts five states away and getting a load out somewhere. It's been very encouraging to see producers have not thrown the towel in on this,” Paustian says.
Another bright spot is that with restaurants reopening, demand is beginning to increase in that sector, he says.