If there is one word for U.S. hog farmers to describe the COVID crisis, it would be uncertainty. No one knows how long the disruption in the supply chain will last or how widespread the damage will be to our farmers and their rural communities. Likewise, long-term planning on our hog farms is challenging, as many producers are taking things day-by-day.
What is all too clear is that U.S. pork producers urgently need federal assistance to weather this unprecedented crisis. Otherwise, thousands of pig farmers may be forced to liquidate their farm assets, forever changing the economic landscape in our rural communities across the country.
Pork producers are resilient and are used to adapting to changing weather or market conditions, but COVID-related impacts threaten to overcome our pork production system. Hog values have plummeted, with collective losses of more than $5 billion anticipated in 2020 for pig farmers. These losses are just for the lost value of hogs that cannot be processed into the food supply.
Sadly, hog farmers face additional staggering costs and a severe emotional toll for the lost value of hogs they may be forced to euthanize due to supply chain bottlenecks. While implementation of the Defense Production Act, which prioritized the continuity of packing plant operations, has improved the situation, hogs are still backed up on farms with no place to go.
On my farm, we're adapting, finding space to keep our pigs comfortable and seeking any viable animal care solution for as long as possible. We're working every day to put off the need to euthanize until the last minute of the last hour of the last day. With continued uncertainty for pig farmers, more farms are just hanging on by a thread. The magnitude of this supply chain disruption is just too great, and we need help.
Without prompt government assistance, many generational family pig farms may go bankrupt. This could destroy the livelihood of our communities and lead to consolidation in this farm sector that generates more than 500,000 jobs and $23 billion in personal income.
This week, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Richard Burr (R-NC), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced legislation offering pig farmers a critical lifeline during this unprecedented pandemic.
The bill would:
- Compensate hog producers who are forced to euthanize or donate animals that can't be processed into the food supply due to COVID-related packing plant capacity reductions;
- Increase funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have been tapped to perform COVID-19 testing during this human health emergency; and
- Revise the Commodity Credit Corp. charter so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for funding.
This legislation is urgently needed to support hog farmers across the country and to preserve a healthy, dynamic and highly competitive pork production system. We urge Congress to quickly work together to make this legislation a reality. The consequences of inaction are too great.
Paustian is president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and a sixth-generation farmer from Scott County, Iowa.