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Following the pandemic’s impact on the livestock industry

COVID-19 continues to damage the livestock industry and shake up the food supply.

It's nearly impossible to turn on the news or grab a newspaper and not be told about COVID-19 and its developments.

In one way or another, it’s affected basically every industry, and the livestock industry is no exception. 

Meatpacking plants have closed, milk has been dumped, and workers have died. To recap the events as they’ve unfolded and keep up to date, follow the stories below.

“Well, this really sucks,” says Iowa Pork president

Tell it like it is. Mike Paustian, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and a pig farmer in Walcott, Iowa, said what every member was probably thinking.

“Well, this really sucks,” said Paustian in a letter to members this week. “We find ourselves in the middle of a storm of uncertainty and volatility in both the markets and our supply chain. I’m frustrated, as I’m sure you are, with the disruptions and price impacts that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Read more here.

Cattle industry projected to lose $13.6 billion in wake of coronavirus

In an effort to help USDA determine how to best allocate CARES Act relief funds to cattle producers, the NCBA recently commissioned a study. Conducted by a team of agricultural economists led by Derrell Peel, Breedlove professor of agribusiness and Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, the findings estimate cattle industry losses will reach $13.6 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results indicate that cow-calf producers will be impacted the most with losses totaling an estimated $3.7 billion, or $111.91 per head for each mature breeding animal. If there are no relief payments to offset that number, the losses could increase by $135.24 per mature breeding animal, which could mean an additional impact of $4.45 billion in the coming years.

Read more here.

USDA to buy as much excess milk and meat as possible, says Perdue

Besides billions of dollars in cash payments to farmers, coronavirus relief will include purchases of “as much” milk and meat as possible for hunger relief, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday. President Trump says at least $16 billion will be spent on aid to agriculture.

The pandemic and accompanying economic slowdown are expected to wallop the sector. Stay-at-home orders and the near-shutdown of the food service industry “have led to marketing problems throughout food supply chains, with immediate and dramatic impacts across the country,” said the CARD think tank at Iowa State University. It estimated a “massive,” $6.3 billion impact on farmers in the nation’s No. 1 corn, hog, egg, and ethanol state.

Read more here.

Coronavirus could slash farm income by 19%

Crop and livestock prices could tumble by as much as 12% this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, pulling farm income down by $20 billion dollars, said the FAPRI think tank at the University of Missouri on Monday. “A lot of producers are already in trouble. This is going to make it more severe,” said FAPRI director Pat Westhoff.

The FAPRI report was one of the first assessments of the pandemic’s effects on agriculture. Farm sector losses could be offset by coronavirus relief, said Westhoff. President Trump says $16 billion in aid is forthcoming, but the administration has yet to say how it would be divided among producers.

Read more here.

Smithfield closes pork plant indefinitely; hot spot for coronavirus

Under pressure from state and local officials, Smithfield Foods said that its mammoth pork plant in Sioux Falls “will remain closed until further notice” and suggested COVID-19 cases could jeopardize the U.S. food supply. The pork plant was linked to 38% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Dakota.

Smithfield announced the indefinite shutdown a day after Gov. Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken asked Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor, to idle the plant for at least 14 days “to protect your employees, their families, the Sioux Falls community, and the state of South Dakota.” In a letter, Noem and TenHaken said 238 COVID-19 cases were connected to the Smithfield plant — 38% of the statewide total and more than half of cases in Minnehaha County, home to Sioux Falls.

Read more here.

Coronavirus lands haymaker on U.S. farm sector

In its first assessment since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, the government forecast lower prices for U.S. crops and livestock as a worldwide economic slowdown, the result of aggressive efforts to squash the virus, weakens the global appetite for food. The notable exceptions are wheat and rice, where panic buying has driven up prices for the food grains, said the USDA on Thursday.

Normally staid USDA analysts spoke of “an unprecedented decline” in demand for corn ethanol as stay-at-home orders slash domestic gasoline consumption and made “one of the largest one-month reductions in projected U.S. cotton exports ever” — 9%.

Read more here.

Poultry farming realities during COVID-19

A poultry producer who asked to remain anonymous for this article, says that within a week, the chicken business has taken a turn for the worse.

“We are praying and keeping our fingers crossed because our birds aren't marketing,” the Delmarva Peninsula producer says. “They were supposed to start moving to our integrator yesterday. Our pick-up schedule has changed numerous times this week and some of our birds won’t move until next.”

Read more here.

Tyson suspends Iowa hog plant due to COVID-19

More than two dozen workers at a Tyson Foods pork plant were stricken with COVID-19, forcing the meatpacker to suspend operations at its mammoth plant in Columbus Junction in southeastern Iowa, the No. 1 hog state. Tyson Foods announced the shutdown on Monday as the coronavirus spread farther into rural America.

Many slaughter and meat processing plants are located in small towns and cities in rural America, close to the farms and feed lots that produce the millions of cattle, hogs, and poultry that are consumed annually by Americans. The USDA forecasts per-capita consumption of a record 227.4 pounds of meat this year, nearly 10 ounces a day.

Read more here.

JBS tells 6,000 beef workers to self-quarantine

Meatpacker JBS USA said it will close its cattle slaughter plant in Greeley, Colorado, until April 24 while its 6,000 employees self-quarantine in an effort to eradicate a coronavirus outbreak in the community. Two JBS workers have died of COVID-19 and four dozen others have tested positive for the virus.

“While the Greeley beef facility is critical to the U.S. food supply and local producers, the continued spread of coronavirus in Weld County requires decisive action,” said chief executive Andre Nogueria on Monday. Nearly 740 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Weld County, which includes Greeley. JBS USA initially said it would test all of its workers for the coronavirus but then “decided to take more aggressive action and self-quarantine Greeley beef employees until plant reopening.”

Read more here.

What do plant closures mean to the U.S. food supply?

With the recent closures of several meat processing plants (Smithfield FoodsJBSTyson, and Cargill, among others), what will it mean to the food supply system in America?

It could mean a significant change in how companies look at inventory, says Jack Bobo, the CEO of Futurity, a food and agriculture consultant. “There’s going to be a need to rethink what inventory means,” Bobo says.

Read more here.

Dire crisis hitting pork industry as pigs back up due to COVID-19

The food chain crisis in the pork industry is not yet affecting grocery stores or consumers, say industry leaders, but it is a dire situation down on the farm. The impact of COVID-19 has caused hog values to plummet and some packing plants to close, creating a financial and logistics disaster for producers.

Producers are losing about $50 a hog today, says the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). It is requesting immediate relief from the Trump administration and Congress.

Read more here.

Pasture-to-plate. Literally.

It’s standing room only at many local meat lockers. Consumers are bypassing grocery and large chain stores to fill their coolers with abundant locally grown meat. 

The backup in the supply chain could drive some producers to do their own butchering and sell it directly to customers.

Read more here.

Pork industry group says hog farmers are facing a crisis

With market prices for hogs down by 50%, hog farmers are losing money on every animal and some will soon debate whether it’s cheaper to kill a pig than feed it, said Wisconsin producer Howard Roth, president of the National Pork Producer Council, on Tuesday. The NPPC said there is plenty of pork at the grocery store so there is no need for consumers to worry about supplies despite coronavirus slowdowns at processing plants.

“The crisis today is on the farm, not at the grocery store,” said Nick Giordano, NPPC counsel.

Read more here.

To find previous COVID-19 coverage, follow the link below.

Read more: Tracking COVID-19 coverage, April 3-10

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