October means cooler temperatures, pumpkin patches and Halloween, but U.S. pork producers know it better as National Pork Month. To celebrate the month-long holiday, HOTH is turning over its authorship to guest hosts to offer unique perspectives and experiences in our sector. This inaugural HOTH is penned by Illinois Pork Producers Association Executive Director Jennifer Tirey.
What do you love about representing the industry?
Working for the Illinois Pork Producers Association is so much more than a job. It has become a place that I have built lifelong friendships. The hog farmers I represent are some of the hardest working individuals I have ever met, and their passion and resilience are why I love representing this industry.
What challenges have farmers in Illinois faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
As a result of the COVID pandemic, Illinois pork producers were hit very hard financially. The Coronavirus Assistance Program, the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Industry Disaster Loans were greatly appreciated, but they have not made any of my producers whole. After more than two years at the tip of the trade retaliation spear, U.S. pork producers came into 2020 forecasted to make $10 profit on every hog. That is, until COVID-19 hit. Hog farmers have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID and are forecasted to lose an estimated $5 billion this year.
As COVID spread, harvest facilities closed or dramatically reduced capacity, creating a lasting back-up of millions of hogs on farms across our country. Three large processors in Illinois were directly impacted where many of our farmers shipped their pigs. This forced farmers to get creative so they could hold their animals longer on farms. Our farmers also got creative with their marketing efforts, selling hogs straight off the farm to individual consumers, and shipping pigs all over the country to new destinations for below market value and sometimes nearly free. Illinois farmers pivoted very quickly so that they did not have to make the difficult choice that many of their fellow hog farmers in surrounding states had to when forced to put down an animal they had raised to be a protein source for consumers.
The Illinois Pork Producers Association continues to work with the National Pork Producers Council to ensure that additional federal assistance is available to preserve the livelihoods of our hog farmers across the state. Our producers have also met with members of our Illinois congressional delegation to keep them updated on the issues impacting our industry.
What help can Congress provide to ensure U.S. hog farmers weather the COVID-19 crisis?
Illinois hog farmers continue to support NPPC’s efforts in urging Congress to include the following in the next COVID-relief package:
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- compensation for the lost value of euthanized and donated hogs, including related costs and disposal.
- additional direct payments to hog farmers without restrictions.
- additional funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have appropriately assisted and shared resources with their public health partners during the COVID crisis.
- modification of the Commodity Credit Corporation charter so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for USDA funding.
- enhancements to the Paycheck Protection Program to ensure eligibility for farmers and ranchers who are sole proprietors.