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Kenyon pork farmer details hardships on the horizon and why federal help won’t be enough

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KENYON, Minn. (KTTC) -- With many local meat plants shutting down to COVID-19 concerns, many farmers are stuck with too much supply and no demand. Two Smithfield Foods plants, one in South Dakota and the other in Wisconsin, shut down last week.

The plant in Sioux Falls is the main buyer of Mike Patterson's hogs. He's now left with many hogs he can't move or sell. They were supposed to have gone to market last week.

"We were supposed to sell 170 to 300 head depending on exactly what they weighed and we were supposed to probably sell another 170 to 300 head this week," said Patterson. "And so we've got none of those so our barns are full."

They don't stop growing. But bigger isn't always better when it comes to hogs.

"Once they go past an optimum harvest weight, we get docked significantly. So from a financial standpoint it's going to be a big impact potentially on the order of 50 to 60 to 70 dollars per head difference," Patterson says.

Full barns also raise animal ethics concerns.

"We've got hogs that are ready to market. The barns are designed to hold the number of animals we have in them and until the certain time that they're ready to market," said Patterson. "So obviously if they get bigger, that creates a challenge on the space that we have to house them ethically."

Despite having limited space, Patterson is expecting another shipment of hogs in the coming weeks.

He's also running out of time. After each barn is cleared out from sales, it is cleaned and sanitized before a new shipment arrives.

Patterson does have a bit of good news. Some local processing and storage plants, also known as locker plants, are helping out.

"We're delivering hogs to our local locker plants. We talked with locker plants in both Kenyon and Wanamingo and they've really stepped up to the plate," Patterson said. "We're probably going to get 250 hogs or so processed locally."

That still won't clear enough room for Patterson, so he'll have to get creative with his available space.

The federal government recently announced $19 billion in aid to farmers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that total, hog farmers are getting $1.6 billion in direct help. However, Patterson and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) both independently said the hog farmers aid will “fall short of what is truly needed.”

In an online statement, NPPC President Howard A.V. Roth also said, “While the direct payments to hog farmers will offset some losses for some farmers, they are not sufficient to sustain the varied market participants, including those who own hogs as well as thousands of contract growers who care for pigs."

$3 billion of that of the aid package is allocated for buying overflowing meat, dairy and produce. That food will be donated to food banks.

Zach Fuller

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