Q&A Series: Pork Industry Leaders Explore Ripple Effects of COVID-19

( Farm Journal's PORK )

No one could have predicted the way COVID-19 would change our world in 2020. As the industry adapts and moves forward, Farm Journal’s PORK asked five pork industry leaders to share their perspectives on the ripple effects of COVID-19 in their part of the country.



Andy Curliss
CEO, North Carolina Pork Council

Q. What ripple effect is COVID-19 having on the pork industry in your area?
A.
The effect here in the Mid-Atlantic has not been as severe as it has been in the Midwest, but we have nevertheless been seeing and addressing challenges. For example, the Midwest plant closures and overall market demand shifts have impacted our independent sow producers, who have seen sudden disruptions in their markets. Larger, integrated systems are taking many actions, from breeding to feeding, to extend our ability to hold pigs as long as possible. Our major packing plants did not close, but we have seen reduced capacity, mostly to ensure health and safety protocols are in place to protect employees – which remains the highest priority. We have experienced ice storms, hurricanes and other interruptions over the years, but nothing else compares, as most now realize.

Q. What keeps you up at night?
A.
The uncertainty on many fronts. The sweep of the pandemic continues to require a wide range of responses and actions – from operational planning to public policy engagement to social media and communications, many times all at once. We are fortunate in North Carolina to have a great team in place at the North Carolina Pork Council and across the industry that understands and embraces our clear mission to continue, even under trying circumstances, to produce quality, nutritious, safe and affordable food while supporting our communities, caring for animals and protecting the environment, public health and employees. There are few endeavors as noble as that.



Jessica Darr
Executive Director, Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council
 
Q. What ripple effect is COVID-19 having on the pork industry in your area?
A
. Pennsylvania’s pork industry has certainly seen its share of struggles, but all in all, has fared reasonably well through the COVID-19 crisis. We have seen the slowdowns at the plant level as a result of attendance issues as well as the need for producers to make adjustments to growth rates and find alternative markets as needed. At this time, we’re cautiously optimistic that Pennsylvania is on the path to a better understanding of operation in this current “normal” as ongoing attention is given to ensuring worker safety, product quality and supply security. The strength, innovation and perseverance of the industry here in Pennsylvania has been a pleasure to witness during these uncertain times.
 
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A.
Certainly this uncharted territory weighs heavily on us all as we continue to forge ahead into the unknown. One specific concern that’s regularly on my mind, and that became even more apparent through the pandemic, is the unfortunate disconnect between consumers and the outstanding efforts of our producers and industry professionals. The misconceptions about the quality care our farmers offer their animals, the genuine care for the well-being of plant employees by ownership and management, efforts put forth to better protect the environment, etc., all make apparent the ongoing importance of the industry’s We Care program and sharing our story with consumers in order to improve trust and loyalty for our product and industry, now and always.



Roy Lee Lindsey
Executive Director, Oklahoma Pork Council

Q. What ripple effect is COVID-19 having on the pork industry in your area?
A.
I think the challenge for our producers is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. No one is comfortable with uncertainty and right now, the only thing that is certain is we don’t know what the next week, month or even year holds for the industry. We’re a group that plans and organizes everything we do and that just isn’t possible right now. We can make plans, but we know we are making them without all the necessary information.

Q. What keeps you up at night?
A.
I mentioned the uncertainty our industry is facing today. That uncertainty is creating a tremendous amount of stress – and that stress is across all of agriculture. So many of our farmers also have crops or other livestock that are being impacted by this crisis. I know from talking to farmers the sense of dread and being overwhelmed they are feeling. I hope everyone recognizes there are resources available to help farmers through these times. I would encourage folks to keep an eye out for the neighbors and friends and offer to lend a hand, sit down and listen, and help someone find help. If you don’t know where to find the resources to help someone, call your state producer association or the local extension office or even your medical professional. 

David Preisler
CEO, Minnesota Pork Producers Association

Q. What ripple effect is COVID-19 having on the pork industry in your area?
A.
The ripple effect has come sooner in Minnesota because of the plants that went down for extended periods. Farmers have been adapting and improvising. There have been animals put down and also moved into alternative channels but at a loss to just avoid putting them down. This has been financially and emotionally very hard. I think we underestimate the stress level on many farms. We are also not out of this. The tail may be long depending on packing plant capacity. This is also hard on rural economies. Hog farmers tend to spend money locally. Finally, there have been lessons learned from some of this that we can apply to a foreign animal disease outbreak and those need to be addressed ASAP. 

Q. What keeps you up at night?
A.
A number of things, but plant capacity and where that will be over the next few months is a big one. Plus, the human toll this has all taken – this has been hard on a lot of really good people.

Josh Trenary
Executive Director, Indiana Pork

Q. What ripple effect is COVID-19 having on the pork industry in your area?
A.
Many of our members are experiencing serious financial losses coupled with additional management issues associated with the backup of pigs on farms due to a lack of adequate market access. 
 
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A.
The question that keeps me up at night is how will activist groups use the COVID-related challenges our farmers are facing right now against our industry in the future?


We know that nothing can replace World Pork Expo, but we will be uniting together June 1-6 for PORK Week across all of our Farm Journal platforms to elevate the important role the pork industry plays in feeding the world. Share your stories and post photos on social media using #PORKWeek to help us honor the pork industry. From “AgDay TV” to “AgriTalk” to “U.S. Farm Report” to PorkBusiness.com and everything in between, tune in and join us as we acknowledge the most noble profession there is: feeding people.

More from PORK Week:

Q&A Series: Economists Weigh in on Pork Outlook

Friendships, Salsa and Social Distancing

 
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