GAYLORD, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s 3,000 hog farmers keep the nation’s meat counters stocked with pork. The state is second only to Iowa in the volume of hogs sent to market.
But suddenly, COVID-19 is turning their markets upside down in a sea of uncertainty.
“I think all of the pig producers in the nation are affected by this right now,” says Lincoln Langhorst.
Langhorst is co-owner of Wakefield Pork in Gaylord, Minnesota. With the slackened demand for hogs due to processing plant closures, farmers are stuck with animals they must continue to feed and shelter.
“We need to harvest animals every day to make room for new baby pigs being born every day. So as packing plants shut down for a period of time, it really adds a large impact,” Langhorst says.
For the time being, Langhorst and his 250 partner hog producers will try slowing down the animal’s growth by adjusting their diets. However, holding onto an increasing number of pigs creates shortages of barn space.
It’s the classic ripple effect, caused by processing plant closures in Iowa, Sioux Falls and Worthington. The JBS processing plant announced Monday it was closing indefinitely due to at least 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the workforce. Comfrey Farms pork processing plant in Windom announced Tuesday they are “proactively suspending operations temporarily.”
“I’d like to get priority testing for those people so they can get those plants reopened and provide food in a safe manner,” Langhorst says.
One option is shipping to processors a greater distance away, perhaps to still functioning plants in Iowa or Missouri. But further away will only increase a farmer’s trucking costs. An additional expense at a time when pork prices have fallen sharply.
“Unfortunately, if this continues you will see multi-generational family farms lose and go out of business,” Langhorst says.
It is yet another unfortunate side of the ongoing pandemic – as pork plants shut down and hog farmers get stuck with animals they can’t move.
For now, pork inventories in cold storage should reduce the risk of wide scale retail shortages.
That would certainly change if processing plants remain closed for extended periods of time.