WASHINGTON — The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) wrote a letter to President Donald Trump stating its concerns that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is headed toward “a serious market disruption” for the US pork industry.
The trade association said it was dealing with severe labor shortages on farms and in plants before this outbreak.
“According to industry economists and analysts, there are not enough available workers to run weekday second shifts or Saturday shifts in many of the nation’s pork packing plants,” said Howard Roth, NPPC president. “Hog farmers are also struggling to find a sustained supply of workers as unemployment rates have fallen dramatically.”
Roth said while the labor shortfall has been a significant problem in recent years, facilities maintained plant capacity to harvest hogs and market them.
“Twenty years ago, the industry suffered from a plant-capacity shortage and the damage exacted on hog farmers was deep and lasting,” the NPPC letter said. “The price of market hogs collapsed to almost zero. Many hog farmers lost everything. The industry became more consolidated. Without a solution to the labor shortage on farm and in plants, this scenario may play out again.”
NPPC asked the president, other administration officials, members of Congress and state governors to develop support plans if pig farmers are impacted by bottlenecks in the supply chain.
“While industry economists and analysts have been expecting the capacity shortfall to begin in September, the COVID-19 situation could cause significant capacity shortfalls much sooner and put daily animal care needs at risk,” Roth said. “School closures preventing parents from going to work are already a concern in farm and plant communities. The specter of market-ready hogs with nowhere to go is a nightmare for every pork producer in the nation. It would result in severe economic fallout in rural communities and a major animal welfare challenge.”
The NPPC also requested that federal and state officials expedite worker visas if the labor shortage grows.
“The United States is the world’s largest exporter of pork, the number one meat consumed globally,” Roth said. “Pork alone can put a huge dent in the US/China trade imbalance because the United States produces the safest, highest quality pork in the world at very affordable prices. Because our product is in such demand and we are so competitive, US pork is an engine of economic growth in many regions of the nation. Unfortunately, the severe labor shortage we face threatens the financial livelihoods of thousands of hog farmers, their employees and their communities.”