Montana pig farms take US-China trade war on the snout


By Tom Lutey, Helena Independent Record (MT)

Aug 10, 2019


A semi-truck rolls up to the loading dock at Twin Hills Colony once a week. The doors open and premium hogs stream in, 270 pounds at a time, until the scale hits 60,000.


The doors close. The truck lets out a gasp of diesel smoke and rumbles out of yard, southbound for the Independent Meat Co. packing plant some 390 miles away in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and eventually a freighter destined for Asia, where pork is king.


Itís been this way for at least 16 years, said David Hofer, of Twin Hills. Asian markets have been good business not only for this colony but for all of Montanaís Hutterite communities raising hogs. The farmers raise the animals exactly like their customers in Japan and China prefer, hormone- and additive-free with bright white fat marbled throughout the meat.


As the United States has ratcheted up tariffs on China at President Donald Trumpís direction, the Chinese responded with 62% tariffs on American pork, then later canceled orders. Other nations like Brazil are benefiting from tariffs jacking up the cost of U.S. pork into China.


Hutterites received the news in late July that the Asian markets would no longer support their current price. They have to take less money for their hogs.


ďOur buyer says heís had so much problems with the market over the water. He used to say he could sell anything there except the squeal, but these tariffs are getting tough,Ē David Hofer said.


The value of U.S. pork sales to the China/Hong Kong region was down 25%, or $110.4 million, for the first four-plus months of the year, the U.S. Meat Export Federation reported July 8.


Itís a tough spot for Hutterites. Alternative markets donít put the same premium on the characteristics of the coloniesí pigs. They breed Yorkshire-Landrace females with Duroc boars to get the color of the meat just right.


They donít use hormones or antibiotics. And they donít use Ractopamine, a feed additive that takes the fat out of pork. In the lean-meat crazed U.S., where health professionals have warned against the dangers of cardiovascular disease associated with saturated fats, Ractopamine is the norm. In Asia, consumers have never surrendered the flavor of marbled pork for the tough, rubbery virtues of lean chops.


U.S. financial assistance to trade-war-troubled Montana farmers suggests the stateís pig farms have been punched in the snout by the China spat.


Hog farms dominate the top 30 Montana recipients of aid from the U.S. Market Facilitation Program, which was created by the Trump administration to offset trade-related market losses. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit government watchdog thatís made a point of tracking farm subsidies, obtained the data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture by plying the Freedom of Information Act. EWG received data for payments nationwide. It shared the Montana results with The Billings Gazette.


There were 64 payments issued to hog operations in 2018, totaling...