COVID-19 has hurt some meat processors, causing backlogs in barns

Published: May. 27, 2020 at 6:13 PM CDT
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America's food supply is dependent on a stable supply chain. However, meat processing plant closures have broken that chain, leaving many producers with nowhere to send their product.

Meat processing plants closing have forced many pork producers in South Dakota and Minnesota to euthanize their hogs.

Agricultural leaders said about 10,000 hogs a day are being euthanized in Minnesota.

Although North Dakota has fewer pork producers who said they shouldn't reach that point, the issue is still putting a strain on meat processing facilities.

Producers said processing facilities in the state are especially busy, causing backlogs in the barn.

"Your barn's set up to run these hogs until they get to a specific weight and then you take them to market. Well you have little hogs that are ready to go into the barns to be fed, if you have no place for them to go, you don't want to keep feeding the large ones," said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne.

With workers in large processing plants testing positive for COVID-19, some producers have flocked to North Dakota to sell. But producers in the state said it's hard to compete when producers from outside the state are selling below market price.

"They'll bring up 300 pound hogs and they'll sell them for like 100 bucks. Normally you're talking 3 to 500 dollars for that animal. Cause it's either you sell it at that price or you euthanize the animal," said farm owner and rancher Isaiah Deal.

Deal bought 15 hogs in March last year, but only purchased two this year.

"So we have people we normally buy from and we're just not buying feeder hogs from them. I don't know what they're doing with them. So we've just forgone the sales,” said Deal.

That difficult decision put them down about $20,000 in hog sales.

"When you've had this huge shutdown of processors, now you can't get all the product necessarily processed, so you're actually killing hogs,” said Watne.

But Deal said he's glad they're raising cattle and chickens that already have an appointment with their processor, which is now booked up into next February.

Large processing plants, like Smithfield in South Dakota, are slowly reopening their operations.

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