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Pork Plant Closures Concern Producers Who Have Nowhere To Send Their Hogs

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Amy Mayer
/
IPR file
Tyson in Louisa County and Smithfield in Sioux Falls, S.D. have both shut down after workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Many pork producers in Iowa are wondering where they’re going to take their pigs after Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods shut down hog processing plants because workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Marv Van Den Top of Boyden in northwest Iowa’s Sioux County sells about 1,500 hogs a week to be harvested at the Smithfield processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. Now he has no place to bring them. He said it’s “pretty devastating."

“Other plants are all running at capacity,” Van Den Top said, “and I can’t get them in anywhere else to have them harvested.”

Van Den Top said he’s changing his pigs’ diet to try to slow their growth, adding that they’ll “hopefully ride it out” until the processing plant gets up and running again. But if producers have their hogs on site longer, their quality could decrease, said Lee Schulz, an Iowa State University Extension livestock economist.

“You could get lower prices because of price discounts for heavier carcasses or more fat on those animals,” Schulz said.

Schulz said it’s also likely wholesale and retail prices could go up because of the limited availability of certain products.

“At the same time, this limited processing capacity is limiting demand for slaughter animals and pushing those farm level prices lower and continuing to back up the supply chain because those animals that are intended for slaughter now are staying on the farm,” Schulz said.

Schulz said producers are losing money every day they hold onto the animals. Hog prices this week have declined 25 percent compared to late January.

As of Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 166 tests related to the Tyson plant in  Columbus Junction in southeastern Iowa's Louisa County. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday that the state is sending an additional 900 COVID-19 tests to the plant. The state sent 200 of the tests there last week.

At Smithfield in Sioux Falls, 350 workers tested positive for the respiratory disease.