Iowa’s pig farmers: Facing COVID-19 with resilience
By Mike Paustian President, Iowa Pork Producers Association
via Newton Daily News (IA) - June 26, 2020
As a sixth-generation pig farmer, I thought I had seen, or at least heard, it all. From the challenges my family and other pig farmers have weathered over the years, such as disease outbreaks and trade barriers to volatile markets that impact our bottom lines. Yet, the food supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19 is unlike anything we have experienced. Certainly, the virus spread has made planning for food production, and the things we all do as Americans, a challenge everywhere.
Iowa pig farmers raise one-third of the pigs in the United States. It takes approximately 10 months from conception for a pig to be ready to go to market. While we are strategic planners, no one knew 10 months ago that our lives would look like this today.
Pigs continue to reach market weight on our farms in numbers that were normal in a pre-COVID-19 world. An average workday in Iowa would usually see 150,000 pigs delivered to pork processing plants. Those numbers were supported by consumer demand here in the U.S. and around the world. As those processing plants had to limit or halt production to protect the health of our supply chain partners, we have experienced a bottleneck of pigs that farmers continue to struggle with every day.
We can’t turn the clock back 10 months to make adjustments, so now we are pursuing ways to keep pork on the table for you and your family, while dealing with pigs backed up on our farms. Producers have worked tirelessly and creatively to find ways to make sure as many pigs as possible stay in the food supply chain. Sadly, there are pig farmers who have had to make the gut wrenching decision to euthanize some of their pigs. Many more of us are lying awake at night wondering if we will have to do the same. This has been heartbreaking for pig farmers who chose their life’s work as providing food for others.
Yet, what gives me hope as we consider our new normal is the resiliency and work ethic of Iowa’s pig farmers. They show up every single day to care for their animals and aren’t afraid roll up their sleeves and work to find solutions for the problems we face. While COVID-19 continues to inject fear and worry into society, pig farmers continue to produce food in the face of this challenge and look for innovative ways to process pork and feed local communities. We know that hunger is a growing problem, and those of us in agriculture continue to produce food to meet that need despite natural disasters, economic downturns, and now a worldwide pandemic.
Our fellow Iowans have already rallied together to support our industry – and we are grateful. With Governor Reynolds, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship launched “Pass the Pork” in April. Pass the Pork helps Iowa pig farmers donate pigs to Iowa food banks, getting the pork to local communities when they need it most. While the program has been a tremendous success, processing capacity remains a challenge for the foreseeable future. Pig farmers continue to come together, undeterred by obstacles, to find innovative solutions to this evolving crisis – just like we, and generations before us, have always done.