R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Pork producers applaud order to keep packers open

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Tammy Brink, of Highland, has been sewing handmade masks for frontline works since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis began. (Photo courtesy of the Illinois Pork Producers Association)

This week’s report focuses on President Trump’s executive order to keep America’s meat processing plants open and running as plants are temporarily shuttering due to the COVID-19 pandemic — including at least one Illinois facility. Also this week, we have good news about an Illinois pig farmer who has sewn more than 1,300 masks for local first responders, and the progress of the Illinois corn crop. Please read on for more news …


IPPA applauds order to keep packers open

SPRINGFIELD — In a move widely criticized by meatpackers’ unions and health experts, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to keep meat and poultry processing facilities open during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many in agriculture are applauding the president’s action, citing the importance of keeping the nation’s food chain from suffering further disruption from worker absences due to the virus.

“I thank President Trump for signing this executive order and recognizing the importance of keeping our food supply chain safe, secure, and plentiful,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Our nation’s meat and poultry processing facilities play an integral role in the continuity of our food supply chain. Maintaining the health and safety of these heroic employees in order to ensure that these critical facilities can continue operating is paramount. I also want to thank the companies who are doing their best to keep their workforce safe as well as keeping our food supply sustained. USDA will continue to work with its partners across the federal government to ensure employee safety to maintain this essential industry.”

The Illinois Pork Producers Association is also firmly on board with Trump’s decision, saying that some pig farmers in Illinois are faced with full barns of hogs and nowhere to take them for harvesting.

“Our farmers are facing unprecedented times right now due to COVID-19 and the immediate forecast for the pork industry is ugly,” said Dale Weitkamp, IPPA president and a pig farmer from Raymond. “We need these plants to be running in order to convert our animals to food, as they are intended.”

IPPA communications director Jenny Jackson said the president’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel the nation’s processors to remain open was a good first step, but further action may be required.

“It will not be able to alleviate all of the pigs we already have backed up to this point. We still need assistance with euthanizing and disposing to balance these extreme disruptions,” she said. (USDA, IPPA news)


Monmouth Smithfield plant shuts down, reopens

MONMOUTH — Smithfield Foods in Monmouth suspended operations on April 25 after a “small portion” of its 1,700 employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The Monmouth plant represents approximately 3 percent of U.S. fresh pork supplies and also produces bacon. Employees were paid during the closure, according to a press release.

However, news reports circulated late last week that the plant would reopen at full capacity. This was reported by WMOI/WRAM: “Smithfield in Monmouth, IL will resume operations on Saturday, May 2, 2020 for the Kill, Shipping, Plant Service, Maintenance, and Animal Foods Departments.  On Monday, May 4, 2020 Smithfield will resume all Cold Side Operations.  The entire plant will be back in operations on Monday, May 4, 2020 for all employees and shifts.” The statement was credited to Michelle Reyburn, Monmouth Smithfield Plant human resources manager.

Smithfield Foods said in a statement that the company supports President Trump’s actions (see prior news item) and the order “protects the livelihoods of millions of American family farmers who produce bountiful livestock supplies but rely on meat processing facilities to convert that abundance into food,” Gatehouse Media reported.


Highland pig farmer gives back with masks

HIGHLAND — Tammy Brink, along with her husband, Larry, have been involved in the pork industry for the entirety of their 37-year marriage. Also a professional seamstress by trade, Tammy Brink was looking for a way to fill some downtime while contributing to the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

On March 22 she channeled that desire by sewing her first elastic-supported mask to protect against airborne spread of the virus; now she has completed more than 1,300 masks for area businesses and community members. She has been asked to make cloth home sewn masks for area hospitals and individuals in neighboring communities. When Brink encountered a shortage of elastic required to secure the masks, friends and family rallied to her aid by scouring stores and securing the much-needed product.

Brink, who raises mostly Berkshire hogs, gives credit to her mother and aunt for sharing their talent, time and passion for sewing. “I have loved to sew since the age of 11 when I enrolled in sewing as a project in 4-H,” she said. (IPPA news)


AFT names Reynolds as Midwest director

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American Farmland Trust announced the promotion of Kris Reynolds to Midwest Regional Director. In this role, Reynolds will lead AFT’s programs in Illinois and neighboring states, working to advance AFT’s efforts to promote sound farming practices to protect water and combat climate change, protect farmland and bring a new generation of farmers on to the land. For the last three years, Kris has served as AFT’s Midwest deputy director and Midwest natural resources conservationist.

“We are excited to have Kris step into this leadership role within our Midwest program,” said David Haight, vice president for programs at American Farmland Trust.  “He brings credibility with farmers along with a deep understanding of the opportunity for the landscape-scale change that is needed to protect water and aid in our fight against climate change.”

Reynolds, a fifth-generation farmer, currently works with his family to raise corn, soybeans, and cover crops on 700 acres in south-central Illinois. His passion for conservation began at an early age in 4-H and FFA programs. (AFT news release)


Illinois Farm Fact:

The Illinois corn crop was 37 percent planted as of April 26. This compares with just 7 percent in 2019 and the 5-year average of 31 percent planted. (USDA-NASS)