Check please …
I am ready to get up and leave this restaurant called 2020. For us in the swine industry, this year came in with rave reviews. We were keeping African swine fever at bay, trade agreements were falling into place and 2020 was predicted to be a profitable year for pork producers.
Then the happy train got derailed by COVID-19, first as restaurants were told to scale back to delivery and curbside pickup, and schools were shutting their doors to be replaced by distance learning, both moves diminishing the domestic demand for pork and other animal proteins.
Then COVID started hitting the workers in our slaughter plants, causing well-documented facility shutdowns and slowdowns. Staggering pork producer loss estimates in the billions of dollars are being thrown around by the time we flip the calendar to 2021. That's not to mention the number of producers who will not be able to weather the COVID storm.
Producers are being forced to think the unthinkable — having to put down perfectly good hogs, because there is no place to go with the market hogs. Producers got to thinking, which farmers are good at, and came up with ways to slow down pigs' growth. Others have been able to find other outlets for their market hogs, all in the name of putting off the sometimes inevitable.
Processors are slowly reopening (with some hiccups) and speeding up the throughput, but there is still quite a backlog of hogs on farms. Even with the existing backlog, the reopening and getting closer to full slaughter capacity, optimism ripples through the industry.
We should be finishing up the first day of World Pork Expo in Des Moines, but that great event also fell victim to COVID as organizers from the National Pork Producers Council felt it best to err on the side of caution and cancel rather than hosting the annual event to bring 20,000 pork-industry enthusiasts to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
World Pork Expo is always a display of the latest and greatest equipment services available for pork producers, as well as offering many opportunities to learn more about your chosen profession – regardless if you chose it or vice versa. But more than anything, World Pork Expo is a place to gather. Not all pork producers come from the same background, and each of their operations vary. Yet, they are all tied with the bond of enduring the same market fluctuations, disease issues and outward pressures of export markets.
The U.S. pork industry is one big family, and World Pork Expo is a large family reunion of sorts. You are among brothers and sisters, out for the same goal — to produce the safest, healthiest, most-efficient pork product in the world. Maybe not all problems get solved at World Pork Expo, but the three-day event allows everyone in the industry to realize that they are not alone. Everyone else is fighting the same battles in the same war. You know you could find a shoulder to lean on in Des Moines.
With COVID's toll on human life, and the lingering impact the virus has plagued on the pork industry, it is time to either give 2020 the boot or at least a reboot. We have nowhere to go but up from here.