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Covid-19: US pig markets still suffer; Europe feels effects too

The pig industry in the US and Canada continues to feel the effects of Covid-19 and the pressure on packing plants. European pig processing plants also feel the effects of the virus more strongly.

For various reasons, Covid-19 has severely disrupted the US pig industry. On the one hand, various packing and processing plants throughout the country had to temporarily close its doors due to Covid-19 outbreaks amongst plant staff. On the other, some plants face delivery difficulties because for instance restaurants or the foodservice business had to close down.

Artist's impression of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. - Illustration: Shutterstock
Artist's impression of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. - Illustration: Shutterstock

Back-up of 1 million hogs

Illustrating the shortage of US slaughter capacity, Dennis Smith, author at US pig publication National Hog Farmer stated on Monday: “Last week, the kill was down 22% from the previous week and off 35% from the previous year. The industry backed up more than 1 million hogs last week alone.”

Depopulation or abortions

The effect is that pig producers throughout the US and Canada have difficulty getting their hogs to market. Drastic solutions like depopulation or abortions have been reported and practical advice as to how to deal with the solution go around in webinars.

Using social media

Some pork producers chose different solutions and use social media. US-based FarmJournal’s Pork reported about the custom feeders Brian and Corene Mehlhaf from South Dakota, who sold thousands of pigs after having placed a message on Facebook. He told the message had gone coast-to-coast.

Covid-19 Up-date
What impact is the pandemic having on the global pig sector and how are they dealing with it.

Pork exports vs domestic supply

In an analysis by published by news agency Reuters, it was explained clearly how Covid-19 has been adding another dimension to the growing pork exports to Asia. The US had just geared up to send a lot of pork to China. Last year, pork export was relatively complex due to the US-China trade war. Once things eased, the US got ready to ship much pigmeat to China in recent months. Figures on the month March for instance, showed that record export levels were achieved.

Second highest volume on record

Global agriculture columnist Karen Braun quoted data from the US Census Bureau, saying that the US exported 95,892 tonnes of pork and pork products to China in March 2020. She added that that was the second highest volume on record behind December 2019. In addition, she said US pork and pork product exports to China in the first 3 months of 2020 totalled 280,507 tonnes, nearly 3 times larger than 2014’s record for the period and up 300% over the first 3 months of 2019.

Smithfield Foods plant reopening again

Good news came from Smithfield Foods, which announced that its pork plant in Sioux Falls, SD, can be reopened. In a press release, the company stated that the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) has conducted a thorough site inspection. Slaughter will commence on May 11, after having been closed for over 3 weeks. The plant is one of the larger in the US.

Other locations

On other locations, however, Covid-19 continues to affect the operating of pork plants. Earlier this week, Tyson Foods announced that it would suspend operations at its pork packing plant in Madison, NE, with operations being halted while more testing occurs. The plant had been running at a reduced capacity late last week while testing its workforce for Covid-19. During the closure the plant, processing 8,000 pigs/day, will be cleaned.

How do pork producers around the globe experience Covid-19?

Canada: producers unhappy with offered financial compensation

In Canada, pork producers are affected in much the same way by Covid-19 and its effect on processing capacity in Canada and the USA. In addition to this, the aid offered by the federal government is considered insufficient. Read more about this in a special contribution by our correspondent Treena Hein.

Europe: effects of Covid-19 become apparent

In Europe, the effects of Covid-19 are also felt. Prices for finisher pigs have dropped considerably in the Netherlands and Germany. Over the last few months, pig prices had been sky high due to the additional demand from Asia in relation to African Swine Fever. Also prices for sows and piglets are reported to drop.

In Germany, both Tönnies and Vion have cut back their production to 80% capacity, simply because they cannot sell the meat they produce. And a German pig slaughterhouse had to temporarily close down its doors because 49 employees had contracted the virus. Vions owns this facility, which is located in Bad Bramstedt, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Another pig slaughterhouse, owned by Westfleisch in Coesfeld, North Rhine Westphalia, was closed down by the state authorities on Friday when 129 employees of the facility were tested positive for Covid-19. German agricultural title Top Agrar reported that the local authorities will now test all 1,200 employees.

Belgium: request for state support

In Belgium, the meat industry has knocked on the door of the federal authorities for support, as it is getting more difficult to sell meat products. The National Belgian Federation of Slaughterhouses (FEBEV) launched the plea for support as demand and supply have reached a disbalance. The Belgian pig industry has been hit harder than those of other countries in Western Europe due to the occurrence of African Swine Fever in wild boar in the deep south of the country since September 2018. That led to a reduction of export possibilities for Belgian pork. The battle against the ASF virus, however, appears to be something of the past.