Hog farmers admit to trying times

HOWARD COUNTY - Everyone has been affected in some way by coronavirus (COVID-19). Many have felt the difference in the grocery store. 
But there is a flip side to that coin.
There are farmers out there, many of them from Howard County, who have had more than the usual amount of stress. One area is the hog farmers. Perhaps you have seen the stories or even pictures of farmers having to destroy animals because of the difficulty in getting them to the slaughter house.
During the state’s daily press conference on May 28, it was announced the Iowa Dept. of Agriculture launched the Disposable Assistance Program. It will allow $24 million to be used to provide financial support to pork producers to properly dispose of animals.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said pork production lost about 25% of its processing capacity, causing a back-up of around 600,000 pigs.
He noted things are looking better state-wide, with processing capacity at about 80%.
Two local hog farmers, Bill Mahr and Gary Sovereign, spoke up to explain how the coronavirus has changed the way they are farming.
Sovereign felt the numbers given by Naig were pretty accurate, but added some of the plants are adding a Saturday shift to help process more hogs and get things moving back to normal.
Sovereign went on to say, “I have heard of some euthanasia but not locally. I can’t hardly imagine it. It’s not in a farmer’s DNA for that. And worse yet you have your animal activists misleading and exploiting it, and they don’t care. It’s just a fund-raising event for them.”
Mahr has talked to some who are having to destroy their animals. “Some producers are euthanizing fat animals, and I’ve talked to some of them who are aborting sows.”
Mahr described selling animals. “It is difficult to sell pigs when you need to now. Sometimes they put you back two weeks, then you’re sending fat hogs that you get docked on because they’re overweight.”
Sovereign’s farms have had a better time of it. “We have been very fortunate and have not been affected much. Hormel told us right away that they were ‘going to take care of the people that take care of them.’ We also sell some to Lynch Livestock with the same philosophy. We’re lucky to do business with two five-star companies who are committed to doing things the right way. We are kind of at their mercy, and they have been treating us fair.
“I have seen worse markets, even on an inflation scale. Never have we seen a spread on the retail side like now. The animals are out there but plants are backed up so far and with heavier weights. It will take months to get caught back up, which will drag it out longer. It will get better, but with less producers I am afraid.”
Sovereign feels politics is playing a part in the food supply. “It is disheartening. Rather than making good, timely decisions, they are looking at what is a power move for themselves. I don’t care what side you are on, it’s the same, and it’s the workers and risk-takers getting hurt the most.”
Mahr agreed. “It is going to take a long time for the markets to get caught up. The packing plants will be backlogged for a while.”
He added, “It is definitely affecting local businesses because the prices in stores went through the roof, so people aren’t buying what they normally buy.”
Sovereign added, “Locally it will affect small business; its bare essential time. On the other side, the local plants will be a bright spot. Protivin, Elma and Riceville lockers should be fine, and they deserve it with all the extra regulations they have to do. they’ve earned it. I just hope they don’t get burned out. Local foods are the best. We are lucky to have three lockers in our county, and we need to support them.”
He went on to say, “We are not through this yet, but there will be changes going forward, most of which will be packing plant-induced. They have their issues also with the retail people. They need more retail options. We need more domestically owned plants that don’t raise animals themselves.”
Mahr said, “For the farmers right now it is very tough to stay positive when you know there is no profit in anything we do, but it is what we love, so we just keep going. I know beef is the same way because I have cattle. Right now we’re selling them for a lot less than what we were the first of the year, and the prices in the grocery stores have skyrocketed.”
 Sovereign is looking forward. “The biggest challenge for me is preparing for what happens tomorrow. You have to think outside the box and to anticipate how to address the problem and yet prepare for a week, a month and a year from now. Its not just us. All the ag sector crops, dairy, beef, chicken, sheep are all in the same boat.” 

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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