Agriculture commissioner: 'Don't expect meat shortages at the grocery store just yet'

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The number of pork processing plants closing due to COVID-19 continues to grow. On Wednesday, Tyson Foods announced it is shutting down its plant in Waterloo, Iowa.

That follows the closure of the JBS plant in Worthington on Monday and Smithfield facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota earlier this month.

“The middle link of that chain is broken right now,” said Greg Boerboom, a farmer in Marshall. “So we’re sitting on pigs we don’t know where to go with and you might go to the grocery store and not see pork on the shelves.”

He and his family own Boerboom Ag Resources.

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He said they usually sell some pigs to Smithfield. Now, they expect the Waterloo closure to push some farmers over to the Storm Lake facility, which they primarily rely on.

“There’s this huge flood of pigs with nowhere to go, so everyone is focused on getting it into a plant and pricing isn’t even being talked about that much,” Boerboom said.

They’re taking a hit as competition drives down the cost. Boerboom said they’re losing out on about $40 to $50 per pig.

Some farmers who can’t sell their pigs will have to euthanize livestock.

“You say, 'Why don’t you just hold them longer' … The problem is we have new pigs being born every day and growing in the barns,” he said. “They need to keep flowing through the system.”

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Otherwise, they will run out of space for the pigs.

Boerboom said they are working to curb how quickly their animals are growing.

“There will be farms, multi-generational farms that will go out of business over this,” he said.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there won’t be an immediate impact on store shelves.

“We’re still in pretty good shape,” he said. “We have a lot of meat in storage, some plants are still running pretty good. With things changing, it will be a little while.”

The Department of Agriculture is working to ramp up production at smaller facilities and increase storage capacity for both processing plants and farmers.

“With plant closings, we have to find homes for thousands of hogs per day,” said Petersen. “We’re very aggressively doing that but there will be other animals we will have to euthanize and depopulate.”

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Petersen said there are 18 processing facilities currently operating statewide and they hope to have another, Prime Pork, back online by Friday. 

He added that the crisis isn’t just affecting the pork industry, but also farmers who produce chickens, eggs, lamb and beef.

“There will be times when shoppers will see shortages or things that aren't on the shelf, that doesn't mean we're short the product,” Petersen said. “We don't want people to panic, sometimes it's just moving the product from one place to another.”

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