A Hog Producer’s Look at Plant Closures: ‘We Are Very Nervous’

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This barn is full and these are hogs are ready to be shipped. That’s the case for Mike Haag, who is a hog producer in Emington, Ill. His Smithfield Foods plant in Monmouth, Ill., is still running.

“So far, I’ve been able to schedule all of my pigs but we are very nervous about it,” Haag says.

He buys weaner pigs and finishes them out. Each day, each pen, are all part of a synchronized process.

“We try to work out at least two to four weeks ahead [to schedule when we go to the plant],” says Haag.

To date, his packing plant isn't asking him to decrease the number of hogs in each truck, nor has the plant stopped taking in loads. It’s good news as he manages a tight schedule. Every hold-up creates a backlog for producers like him and eventually consumers.

“The decision of what pigs are going to be marketed right now was made six to ten months ago when that sow was bred and when that pig was put on feed,” says Haag. “There’s very little fluctuation of when that’s going to market.”

Plants that have closed are trying to reroute loads. The industry says many plants were already at capacity, which created a larger problem. That’s been the case for Kurt Alvine who ships to Tyson Foods in Columbus Junction, Iowa. It was closed down when we interviewed him. That plant site reopened Tuesday.

“[The plant is] doing the best they can to try to fit them [reroute to] other plants but they can only take so many,” says Alvine, a pork producer near Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

He knows his barns need to be emptied soon.

“I had the power washer ready to come and wash out the building,” says Alvine. “I have to move pigs out of the nursery. I put them in and get it washed and disinfected before I get new pigs in [that barn]. Obviously, I’m not going to be ready when I need to be.”

Audrey Angus, a swine specialist with Furst McNess, is seeing similar impacts from her clients across the country.

“We have a customer who got cut eight loads per week,” Angus says. “Every load is going to have 160 head [of hogs]. [It’s a] big deal.”

Angus says producers will lose more money on already low lean hog prices. They’ll also get docked with a lower price if pigs are too heavy.

“Producers have hogs ready to go to market and they can’t go,” says Angus. “They continue to gain weight which puts them on a bracket on the grid that is seriously unprofitable [if plants stay closed].”

As producers like Haag get ready to take hogs in, they hope somehow, the system keeps moving.

“I’m extremely concerned but I don’t know if there’s anything we can do differently besides just hope and pray,” says Haag.

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

Pig Farmers Adjust to Overcome Challenges Created by COVID-19

Tyson Foods Reopens Columbus Junction Pork Plant 

COVID-19 Relief Package Leaves Many Pig Farmers Behind