Governors from Iowa and eight other states are asking the Obama Administration to provide more federal help to pork producers. Governor Chet Culver and the other governor are asking that the U.S.D.A. buy an additional $50 million worth of pork for government programs that provide food for the needy.
"That’s something that there’s precedent for, I believe," Culver told reporters today in a conference call.
The governors also say it’s crucial U.S. negotiators work to re-open key foreign markets that closed to U.S. pork after the newest strain of the flu was initially called the "swine" flu.
"China, as you all know, has denied U.S. pork based on the H1N1 issue and I have had contact with Chinese officials to urge them to also lift this import ban, but we haven’t, to date, had luck," Culver said.
Dave Moody of Nevada, the immediate past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, also participated in the conference call. "Iowa hog farmers have been struggling for some time and the financial outlook currently is very bleak," Moody said.
According to Neil Dierks, C.E.O. of the National Pork Producers Council, farmers have been losing about $21 for every pig sold in the past two years.
"The outlook right now is very bleak," Dierks said, "and people are having to make decisions, basically, about their financial wherewithal and where they’re going to go in the future."
Gary Machan, the person in charge of buying hogs for the Midwestern meatpacking plants that Tyson owns, offered a similarly stark assessment.
"We certainly as an industry miss the robust exports we had a year ago and, as a result, along with the economic conditions — the global recession as well as our domestic economic downturn — it’s created a demand that’s much weaker than it was a year ago and certainly, then, much lower prices," Machan said.
While every sector of American agriculture has been suffering, market analyst Steve Meyer told reporters the pork industry had its second worst year ever in 2008.
"Ironically, it occurred during the year when the average price that pork producers received for their pigs was the third-highest in history," Meyer says. "So the primary reason for this huge drain of producer equity is extremely high costs, mainly in the form of corn and soybean meal."
Producers haven’t been able to recover financially in 2009 and Meyer warns the financial pinch pork producers are feeling is being felt throughout rural America.
The governors of Iowa, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma co-signed a letter that was sent to President Obama today.
There are currently 73,000 pork producers in the United States.
Click on the audio link below to listen to today’s conference call.