Fresh pork

There are some success stories about market-ready pigs finding a processor to make it to food banks and to people’s plates. Curt Zher, a Woodford County farmer in Central Illinois, was happy to be part of such an effort in late April.

However, he will have more market- ready pigs in two weeks and doesn’t know what will happen this time.

Knowing he has pigs he can’t get processed makes it harder for him to see a shortage of pork in grocery stories. He went into a Kroger grocery store at 7 a.m. and got a sad shock.

“The meat case was completely bare. It is a discouraging sight,” Zher said.

The Eureka farmer’s pork is usually processed by a Tyson Food Plant in Iowa which was among plants closed and running at lower capacities due to employee sickness from the new coronavirus. It will take a long time before the backlog of meat is reduced across the country, Zher said

Zher will keep looking for answers. In April he talked to a friend who connected him with the Midwest Food Bank in Bloomington-Normal which was looking for meat. Volunteers raised money to buy the pigs from Zher and pay for the packing and processing done by Brad Steidinger of Fairbury.

They raised enough money to buy and process 30 pigs from Zher and later, another 25 from his neighbor.

“Sixty-five pigs. That’s a big deal when you can’t find a place for them,” he said.

In the last few weeks Zher sold about 50 butcher hogs. He previously had reservations made for the processing locally and he has one more reservation in June. The next he can get now is late September or early October.

Zher is still raising pigs.

“I don’t know whether it’s foolishness or optimism,” he said. “A lot of people are trying to help.”

The Zhers have donated pigs to the Illinois Pork Producer Association’s Pork Power charitable effort for years as a way to pass it on to food banks.

IPPA is seeking support of this program which helps get pork to food banks. Farmweld, a Teutiopolis, Illinois, pig equipment manufacturer worked with IPPA to donated more than 1,340 pounds of pork to Catholic Charities, Enduring Freedom Ministries and The Master’s Hands in the Effingham, Illinois, area in April.

The donations totaling $2,000 have been turned into 670 two-pound pork loins, divided between the three locations, said Jenny Jackson, IPPA’s director of communication.

She explained that laws that regulate the checkoff for IPPA prevent the organization from taking meat out of the market system, so the Pork Power program cannot pay pig farmers for their meat.

The pork producers donate the pork in this program so while it ensures that meat goes to food pantries and is not wasted, producers earn no income from it. However, people can donate to food banks or to the Power Pork Program at bit.ly/35I3LS2 to help get some pork on plates.

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