From the Ground Up: Pork Producers Facing Tough Decisions

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 9:31 AM CDT
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The slowdown in pork processing is causing problems for U.S. pork producers, not the least of which is that pigs are still growing and are still being born every day. Producers are being forced to make some very tough decisions. Jodi Sterle is an Iowa State Animal Science Professor.

“Do we not breed and then you look at, that means that that pig and that litter of pigs will not be in the food chain ten months from now to provide that protein. Do we abort litters which we certainly don’t want to do, but then can keep that sow in production and maybe wait for another reproductive cycle to get her bred?”

Sterle says another question facing producers is what to do with those big pigs.

“After a pig gets to be about three hundred fifty pounds or so, a lot of the plants can’t take them from the sheer weight of the carcass on that shackle space. Some of our nutritionists here at Iowa State University are actually formulating diets to slow growth in pigs which we are usually doing exactly the opposite, right, trying to feed them so that they grow fast and are more efficient and at this point in time we’re actually trying to figure out different diets and rations which will slow their growth.”

Sterle believes that once the smoke clears, in some cases, this slowdown will exact a heavy price.

“I think it’s gonna be tough for a lot of folks and a lot of producers may not survive it. At the same time, some of our small producers are finding new niche markets as well, so there’s always a silver lining and you have to figure out where you can fit and if you can be innovative enough. Small lockers are harvesting seven days a week and people are filling their freezers. So, people are thinking about buying local. So, I think that’s a small bright spot but there are definitely producers who just won’t be able to survive this.”