The Push to Process Local is a Positive for Some Pork Producers

Farm Journal coverage of local demand

The Push to Process Local is a Positive for Some Pork Producers

by Tyne Morgan

Apr 24, 2020

local butcher

As more packing plants shut down, and consumers fear a shortage of protein at their grocery store, COVID-19 is causing a rush for demand for locally raised beef and pork.

( AgWeb )

From Indiana to Iowa and down to Missouri, COVID-19 is causing a rush for demand for locally raised beef and pork.

“Normally, this is a slow season,” says Crag Sims of Sims Meat Processing in LaPorte, Ind. “We typically don’t have a lot of cattle come in, but a few weeks ago when the grocery stores first started having problems keeping up, all heck broke loose here.”

Luke Kerns of Edgewood Locker in Edgewood, Iowa is experiencing something similar. He says typically, this time of year is when business slows, but he says as panic buying started, so did a surge in retail demand.

“We’ve had a lot more traffic as far as people coming in and buying more bulk hamburger or more bulk ground pork, with people just stocking up,” says Travis Powell of Powell Meat Company in Clinton, Mo.

The demand has been so strong for product from local butchers and processors that it’s even been overwhelming at times.

“We struggled to keep up with demand, specifically on ground beef,” says Kerns. “We were running out quite frequently. We started seeing higher quality cuts of beef being ground to make ground beef, which started driving up costs.”

For Edgewood Locker, located in Iowa, they are in a unique situation. As more major pork processing plants either shut down or slow production in their area, the locker is seeing the ripple effects of producers with nowhere to take their market-ready pigs. Kerns says some producers are doing whatever they can just to get rid of animals that are ready for processing.

“We’re seeing on the Internet and on Facebook, people are offering up pigs for free, or selling $50 hogs,” says Kerns. “It’s not only the producers that are calling us to process their hogs, but it’s also customers, or even families that are looking to buy some of these cheap hogs and have the animals processed.”

As COVID-19 continues to cause chaos in the packing industry, new data released to Farm Journal shows as of April 23, eight pork processing plants in four stages have either slowed or closed, which accounts for 18% of the country’s total pork processing capacity. The Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) says hog slaughter is down 16% from last week.

“We’ve never had a situation – that I’m aware of in this country – where we could see multiple plants go down at once, and not only multiple beef and pork plants, but across the board,” says Derrell Peel, a livestock specialist with Oklahoma State University (OSU).

As processors have trouble remaining open, that means less processed pork could head to retail locations, which is also aiding the interest in buying local protein. The surge to stock up on beef and pork means some local livestock producers are also cashing in on the opportunity to help fill freezers full of meat.

“The interest locally has spiked through the roof,” says JJ Green, a small pork producer located in Higginsville, Mo.

Green says before COVID-19 caused restaurants to shut down, he supplied a business in Kansas City with pork.

“Before this, they used to take eight to 10 animals a week,” says Green.

Today, that business doesn’t even buy eight hogs from Green in a month. Looking for a new avenue to supply pork, Green turned to social media for help.

“Since this has happened and I’ve posted a couple of posts on social media, we’re going to touch 60 to 70 freezers in the next three weeks,” says Green. “So, in the time span of five weeks, we’ve just exploded.

While business has been good for some, for other pork producers, margins continue to deteriorate. Sterling Marketing’s latest Sterling Profit Tracker shows farrow-to-finish operations are losing more than $50 per head as of April 17, which is more than triple what those operations were losing a month prior. Sterling Marketing says if you compare that to a year ago, those operations were profiting $43 per head.

While the market searches for more normal processing and the cases of COVID-19 in plants to slow, the silver lining in COVID-19 may be shoppers continue to be captivated by locally sourced beef and pork after some fill up their freezers for the first time ever with freezer pork and beef.

“We’ve been able to turn quite a few people on to the freezer beef and freezer pork idea that had never heard of it,” says Sims.

The push to process locally is one that continues to drive new business.

“I think now that people are getting that farm-to-fork experience, they’re going to know what they’re getting and they’re going enjoy it more, and I think that it’s going to be good for everyone,” says Powell.

This push could turn into a possible lingering effect of the virus’ impact on the U.S., one that could be a positive for homegrown protein.

“It’s something I can definitely see them returning as a return customer once they see how easy the process is,” says Green. “So many people have questions on how it all works. When they figure out how simple it is, they’re going to be filling their freezers a lot more.”