by: Steve Moeller, Department of Animal Sciences, State Swine Extension Specialist
Like many livestock sectors, the impact of COVID-19 on Ohio’s and the Nation’s swine industry have been multi-factorial and ever-changing. In response, the National Pork Board has maintained an on-line COVID-19 information center at https://www.pork.org/ which is updated multiple times per day based on new findings. The impact is now being felt as the number of ‘short-term’ packing plant closures seem to increase daily. Plant closures will impact the industry as a whole in a number of ways, namely: 1) U.S. production is matching packing plant capacity and both are at record levels, thus a regional lack of shackle space will likely occur, 2) Swine production is now nearly constant, centered around weekly flow and optimization of space utilization, thus pig spaces are full and need to be continually emptied to make room for incoming production, 3) Distribution channels from packing plants to consumers are not as efficient, leading to challenges in managing product movement from the packer to the consumer. Additional plant closures, particularly if they occur from Indiana eastward will place a significant burden directly on the producer; 4) The bright spot: Export markets have helped offset some of the supply, particularly trade with traditional partners in Japan and Mexico, but with added sales to China.
Economic challenges have also followed the shut-downs due to COVID-19. A few points to consider: 1) Bellies, the long-standing staple for adding value to pork; price January, 2019 – $1.72/lb.; price January, 2020 – $1.19/lb.; price April 10, 2020 – $0.46/lb. Demand for bellies has dropped due to restaurant and food service closures, compounded by a supply of bacon in packages too large and in locations not amendable to retail trade at the grocer. Take home: EAT MORE BACON!!!!! (for more information on pork prices see: https://www.pork.org/blog/category/weekly-pork-price-summary/ ; 2) Carcass prices received have dropped considerably from early January, 2020 (~$0.563/lb. carcass) to April 14, 2020 (~$0.36/lb. carcass) reducing revenue per head by over $40.00 per pig produced (https://www.ams.usda.gov/); 3) Weaned pig (~21 days of age) cash prices reported between $2.00 and $16.00 per head, on a breakeven production cost near $35 to $40.00 per weaned pig; 4) Ethanol production facilities have been shuttered, reducing access to distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) which offered lower cost energy and protein options for producers. Shift back to traditional corn-soybean meal diets as being most cost effective; 5) Concern regarding sourcing of key amino acids and vitamins via import from global stocks.
Producer responses have been mixed and guarded as one would expect in times of challenge. Considerable interest in slowing growth rates in finisher swine if market access is restricted. Dietary changes to add fiber, tightening feeder adjustments to slightly restrict feed flow, and many other options have been proposed; yet, this is a short term solution when pig flow is dictated by births and space needs from the sow units (for more information consult: https://www.porkbusiness.com/article/pulling-lever-should-you-slow-down-pig-growth). Sow harvest numbers have trended higher in the past few weeks, an indication that some producers may be cutting herd size back. Likely these numbers represent the poorest performing animals first, but with continued pressure indications are that some producers may consider liquidating. There are also groups looking to reduce numbers of piglets through planned euthanasia or abortion, as last resorts, to relieve numbers in already full production systems. Significant challenges in each of the identified areas as the caregivers, managers, owners maintain a very vested interest in welfare friendly production of high quality, safe food.
In summary, COVID-19 has had a multitude of negative effects on Ohio’s swine sector, many of which have ripple effects on individuals and their communities. Outreach education and information from state-level Extension, the Ohio Pork Council, and the National Pork Board are available to assist producers in these difficult times.