Pork Industry Prepares for Ripple Effects of Smithfield Plant Closing

Smithfield Plant Temporarily Closes 041420
Smithfield Foods, Inc., announced an indefinite closure on Sunday of its Sioux Falls, S.D., pork processing plant amid a COVID-19 outbreak. ( Trust in Food )

The ripple effects of Smithfield Foods’ processing plant in Sioux Falls will have far-reaching effects on the industry, leaders in some of the top pork-producing states say.

South Dakota Pork Producers Council Executive Director Glenn Muller says they are hopeful they can get the plant back in operation as soon as possible to minimize any disruption in the food chain that could potentially evolve from this situation.

“We are working with state, local and national authorities to try to address this situation to not lose sight of the fact that we're concerned about the well-being of every employee and the importance of every segment of the industry. We look at maintaining a secure food supply for the nation,” Muller told National Reporter Betsy Jibben on AgDay TV.

The Smithfield plant harvests about 5 million head of pigs annually, which breaks down to about 20,000 pigs per day.

“20,000 pigs a day now have to find a different place to be processed,” says Iowa Pork Producers Association Executive Director Pat McGonegle. “The closing of the Smithfield plant is a major disruption. The logistics will have a significant impact, not only on producers, but on the other plants the hogs are going to and what’s happening back on the farm.”

South Dakota pork producers account for about 30% of the Sioux Falls’ plant’s harvest. Minnesota makes up about 40 to 45% of the plant’s harvest with the balance coming from Iowa and neighboring states, Muller adds. 

“It's not specifically a South Dakota issue, it’s a regional as well as a national issue, as our overall national capacity is reduced by approximately 5%, which is what the harvest capacity here in Sioux Falls,” he says.   

Finding alternative options for producers

Smithfield is making a very strong effort to assist the 550 independent producers that market to the Sioux Falls plant, Muller says.

“They are trying to provide assistance in finding locations to send hogs,” Muller says. “The problem is that with the efficiencies in the food chain, it makes it very difficult because all packing plants are operating at maximum capacity for efficiency purposes. It's difficult to find the space, and they're working not only within their other plants, but also working with some of their competitors.”

Smithfield is currently wrapping up some processes that need to be addressed before the plant completely shutters, such as maintaining the quality control of their coolers and trying to move some of the product that they have, Muller says.

At the state level, McGonegle says the Iowa Pork Producers Association is helping its producers by communicating with state leadership about what pig farmers are experiencing on the farm and in the industry throughout the state.

“We’re also developing resources for pork producers to help them deal with production situations they might face like maintenance feeding, etc., through the Iowa Pork Industry Center,” McGonegle says. “We’re also doing significant outreach to producers to make sure we are capturing the issues they are facing now.”

McGonegle wants producers to know that their state organizations, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board are working hard to find resolves to this unprecedented situation.

“I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of pork producers continuing to communicate with their processor during these times,” McGonegle adds.