R.F.D. News & Views: Meat processing plants opened via order

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Workers returned to the processing lines at the Smithfield Foods plant in Monmouth last week, a move praised by some Illinois pig farmers, who are faced with the grim prospect of herd depopulation. (Smithfield Foods photo)

This week’s roundup of news for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers includes unsettling news for farmers, ranchers and the general public: herd euthanasia. Across Illinois and the nation, producers are finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to depopulate their herds due to the abrupt closure of key sales markets for their animals from the COVID-19 pandemic. Please read on to find out how this problem is being addressed, and what you can help …


Illinois producers facing herd depopulation

BLOOMINGTON — The reality of it is staggering: all over the hog belt, swine producers, as well as beef and poultry farmers and ranchers, are facing the grim prospect of coordinating mass euthanasia of their herds due to COVID-19 related disruptions to their markets. The logistics associated with a mass herd disposal are overwhelming producers. If you or others you know have livestock supplies or equipment that could be used by livestock producers, the Illinois Farm Bureau would like to know. A special webpage has been established at

www.surveymonkey.com/r/LPSEMR where those who wish to assist producers can list the

machinery they have available to lend.

The information collected on the website form will be for internal use and will only be shared with livestock groups if a farmer is in need of specific supplies. Needed items include tractor bucket and skid-steer loaders, coarse sawdust, woodchips (size 2 inches or less), mulch, chopped cornstalks, straw or hay, corn silage and finished compost, to name a few. Old barns, buildings or feedlots are also being considered to house animals during this crisis.

Producers preparing for herd euthanasia should not go it alone, according to Dr. Jake Schwartz of the Swine Veterinary Center in Minnesota. In addition to consulting with their veterinarians, the National Pork Board has issued a checklist for farmers to utilize for staging herd euthanasia and disposal of carcasses. During an NPB webinar last week, Schwartz advised producers to

download the form at www.pork.org/Covid19 or call the NPB at 800-456-7675 for support.


Meat processing plants opened via order

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fourteen major meat packing facilities, including the Smithfield plant in Monmouth, reopened last week after the coronavirus pandemic forced closures due to thousands of workers testing positive for the virus.

“President Trump took decisive action last week to ensure America’s meatpacking facilities reopen in a safe way to ensure America’s producers and ranchers will be able to bring their product to market,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “I want to thank the patriotic and heroic meatpacking facility workers who are returning to work this week so the millions of Americans who depend on them for food security can continue to do so.”

Illinois agriculture groups praised the executive order forcing the plants to reopen, citing the loss of markets for farm products resulting in herd euthanasia. However, many plants are operating at reduced capacity, meaning farmers will still not be able to bring all head to market. To help producers cover costs associated with herd euthanasia, the Illinois Pork Producers Association is partaking in a lobbying effort to ask for government financial assistance.

“Many Illinois pig farmers will have to make some tough decisions on the farm in the next two weeks. With packing plants not running at full capacity, our industry has hogs that will not be able to go to market. Our farmers are suffering financially and do not have the resources needed to properly dispose of these animals. IPPA is asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to request FEMA support from the federal government. This request for federal assistance must come through the state as reimbursement, requiring the state to cover the costs upfront. The industry is asking the state of Illinois for financial support that is needed to assist farmers in the disposal process,” reads a news release issued by IPPA and the Family Farms Group.


As processing declines, prices rise

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Have you noticed that prices for meat at your local supermarket have increased in recent days? Food production has been disrupted by COVID-19, slowing output at plants throughout the country. As fewer cattle and hogs are being slaughtered for processing, wholesale meat prices are on the rise, with the gap between the value of meat products and the prices farmers receive widening. Over the past few weeks, U.S. pork processing capacity has diminished by as much as 20 percent, while beef processing capacity has been reduced by as much as 10 percent, according to American Farm Bureau Federation economist Michael Nepveux.

“This global pandemic has injected never-before-seen uncertainty into the animal protein markets. As processing plants struggle to remain open amid labor shortages and maintain line speeds while implementing worker protection measures, the wholesale value of meat has surged. At the same time, livestock prices have cratered, leading to very large spreads between the value of a processing facility’s inputs and outputs,” Nepvuex observed.

Worker protection measures employed by many processing plants now include plexiglass barriers between employees, increased spacing, and the incorporation of social distances measures throughout facilities — all of which, according to Nepvuex, slow the flow of product through their lines.


Farmers’ pandemic needs is topic of study

URBANA — There is no question that these are some of the most stressful times in the history of

U.S. agriculture, leading some producers into unknown territories. With this in mind, the University of Illinois Extension, with the support of Illinois Pork, is asking farmers and ranchers to participate in an important research project to help identify the needs of agricultural stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the study’s principal investigator, Josie M. Rudolphi, participation will involve completing an online, 10-minute survey.

“Risks related to this research include mental distress that may occur while reflecting on recent stressors,” according to Rudolphi. “Benefits to society include a better understanding of agricultural producers and stakeholders’ needs in response to COVID-19 and how Extension can help.” To participate in the study, email Rudolphi at josier@illinois.edu.


Illinois Farm Fact:


The pork sector contributes $1.8 billion to the Illinois economy. (Illinois Farm Bureau)