As slaughter numbers decline, pork prices rise

Outbreaks of COVID-19 at meatpacking facilities across the United States have shaken the livestocks markets, harming both producers and consumers. 

As of May 4, there have been at least 9,300 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities at at least 164 plants in 27 states, and at least 40 reported worker deaths at 21 plants in 15 states, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting’s database. In response, facilities have closed or scaled down production, leaving farmers without a market to sell their livestock. Hog commodity prices have dropped, and at least 2 million animals have been euthanized. Lee Schulz, associate professor of agricultural economics at Iowa State University, shared his expertise on the pork industry with the FarmDoc Daily Webinar at the University of Illinois. Here are three takeaways from his presentation Friday morning:

Problems are happening because of set infrastructure

Fifteen meat processing plants slaughter 62 % of the hogs each year, and 27 plants slaughter 86.5 % of the hogs each year.

Amid pandemic uncertainty – meat shortages, livestock slaughter and a freezer full of food

Grocery stores may soon face meat shortages. Hogs and chickens are being euthanized. Cattle are being put out to pasture. And America’s storage freezers have more ground beef, chicken breasts and legs, french fries and onion rings than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the United States’ supply chain, having wide-ranging results that will likely hurt both farmers and consumers, but could result in wider margins for America’s largest food companies.

Lawsuit: In dicamba decision, EPA ignored own prerequisite, agency scientists’ recommendations

The EPA’s failure to meet its own benchmark was unlawful and a decision to approve Monsanto's dicamba-based herbicide should be vacated, a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of farmers and conservationists alleges. Documents included as part of the lawsuit show that the EPA ignored its own scientists’ recommendations for a larger buffer zone around fields to protect endangered species and that Monsanto had dozens of off-target incidents during its testing of the herbicide.

Big ag companies say business continues amid coronavirus pandemic

Farmers across the U.S. are prepping for planting season, amid concerns about how the Covid-19 pandemic could disrupt the supply chain, lead to labor shortages and influence price manipulation. Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, raised these concerns in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday. The letter discussed the need for farm laborers, as the State Department is not processing any non-emergency visas and the unique markets farmers are facing during the outbreak. First reported in December, there are now just over 229,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide as of Thursday morning - including more than 10,700 cases in the U.S. according to data collected by John Hopkins University.  

Since the highly-infectious respiratory illness was declared a worldwide pandemic on March 11, U.S. federal and state officials have made moves to limit its spread, including closing down schools, restaurants and bars, cancelling large events and encouraging people to practice ‘social distancing’ by keeping at least 6-feet away from others. 

Duvall wrote that social distancing could have a “significant impact on the processing plants that drive America’s supply chain.” These include meat packing plants, dairy processors, ethanol plants and others. He also raised concerns about farmers’ access to seed, fertilizer and chemicals. For now, even as grocery shelves empty across the United States amidst the coronavirus pandemic, food suppliers and retailers have promised there is plenty of food in reserve.