pigs and pork

While the details of $16 billion in direct assistance to farmers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program program have dominated the news the week, advocates for pork producers are still dealing with decisions about depopulation.

Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association, recognized the struggles pig farmers are faced with in a May 21 update from the group.

“All U.S. pork packing plants are now open at approximately 74% capacity nationwide,” she said.

In Illinois, JBS Beardstown harvested 19,000 pigs on May 21. It has a daily capacity of 22,000. Smithfield Monmouth harvested 10,200 on May 21 compared to 12,200 capacity; and Rantoul Foods 4,000 of the usual 6,800. Rantoul continues to increase its employee attendance daily and plans to harvest this Saturday, even though they would usually be closed for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Tirey said.

“We will not ‘run out of pork’ in the United States. The media is talking about meat shortages across the U.S., and this is simply not the case,” she said. “We have more than enough live animals, it is a lack of packing capacity. We are still producing 70-75% of expected amounts of pork, but experiencing a slow down to grocery store shelves.”

The cuts available at stores depend on the meat they receive from suppliers. That will change from day to day. To address that situation, “IPPA is providing label content on proper cooking temperatures, information on how to prepare new cuts of pork and fun recipe ideas,” Tirey said.

Dale Weitekamp, IPPA president, and Tirey participated in a call with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to discuss the current status of the pork industry this week. They lobbied for the livestock provisions in the upcoming Senate Heroes Act bill that passed the House last week and discussed the CARES Act’s support of the livestock industry in Illinois in regards to funding depopulation and disposal related to market disruptions from COVID-19, she said.

“Our (IPPA’s) projections this week show Illinois will need to depopulate over 200,000 market hogs. We also realize producers are taking steps at different stages related to smaller pigs and sow terminations to slow down the projections,” Tirey said.

She said IPPA is providing information and support for producers who “have to come to this unthinkable conclusion to depopulate.” The development of a mobile euthanasia trailer is being finalized. The goal is to have this trailer available if a producer needs to make that decision, and IPPA is working on details of a mortality disposal cost-share grant, likely to be announced next week, she said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.