The Iowa Department of Agriculture has launched a program to help pork producers deal with hogs they can’t take to market after coronavirus shutdowns at packing plants.
Ag Secretary Mike Naig says it’s something no producer wants to deal with. “Farmers are doing everything they can to avoid having to take the step of euthanizing and disposing of animals,” Naig says. “They are finding alternate ways to market, they are selling direct to consumers, they’re changing their feed ration to slow down the rate of gain — they are doing everything they can. This truly is an action, a decision of last resort.”
The Ag Department is offering producers $40 for each animal to help cover some of the disposal costs for market-ready hogs.
“It won’t cover all costs, but it is a part of the cost that they’ll incur to euthanize and dispose of animals,” he says. Naig says they are still hoping for federal help to cover the lost of revenue from the hogs.
Iowa State University estimates that by mid-May there were approximately 600,000 pigs in Iowa that were unable to go to the packing plants. Iowa producers were faced with killing thousands of chickens and turkeys during the aviation influenza outbreak five years ago — and Naig says they learned some things from that response.
“One of the key learnings from that was to really empower producers to make decisions and to take control of the situation,” according to Naig. “They know their operations better than anyone else. And they also know the resources at their disposal better than anyone else. We learned that back in 2015.”
He says they will hand out the funding in at least three rounds. “The first round closes Friday of this week, and farmers will need to reach out to our office. They can call the main number or they can go to IowaAgriculture.gov and there is a way to apply there. And then we will subsequently roll out rounds two and three,” Naig says.
Naig says this will help producers deal with the short-term problem. In the long-term, he says they need to continue to get making the packing plants safe for workers. He says that will allow the employees to confidently show up and know that they can work safely. “That’s ultimately what it takes to return to full processing capacity. Today in Iowa we are running at about 75 percent of our normal processing capacity — an again that number steadily improves each day.” Naig says.
He says this could continue to be a problem throughout the summer. Each applicant who is approved will receive funding for at least 1,000 animals and up to 30,000 each round, depending on the number of applicants. The money comes from federal coronavirus relief funding.