WASHINGTON — The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) pressed Congress for more action and relief for pork producers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The trade association said that the outbreak caused hog values to plummet, which is creating a possible $5 billion loss for the industry throughout the rest of 2020.

“We remain committed to supplying Americans with high-quality US pork but face a dire situation that threatens the livelihoods of thousands of farm families,” said Howard Roth, NPPC president. “We are taking on water fast. Immediate action is imperative, or a lot of hog farms will go under.”

In a letter to lawmakers, NPPC asked for several new measures, which include $1 billion in pork purchases by the US Department of Agriculture to clear out a backed-up meat supply and supplementing agency food bank programs facing increased demand due to rising unemployment. NPPC said these purchases should accommodate pork products packaged for restaurants and other parts of the foodservice industry who cannot use them now.

Next on the list of measures is equitable direct payments to producers and participants without eligibility.

Finally, the NPPC said there needs to be a legislative fix to emergency loan programs by the Small Business Administration as approximately 10,000 family hog farms do not have access to needed capital.

The trade association wants Congress to raise the cap on qualifying businesses for the loans to include any company employing up to 1,500 people. They also want to make agricultural businesses eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. 

NPPC said the suspension of pork packing plant operations and rising employee absenteeism due to COVID-19 has intensified the existing harvest facility capacity challenge due to labor shortages in rural areas of the United States.

“With limited harvest capacity, a surplus of pigs exists, causing hog values to plunge,” NPPC said. “The loss of the food services market (i.e. restaurants) and the COVID-related slowdown in most export markets has crashed demand and overwhelmed the cold storage of meat.”

The trade association cited data by Dermot Hayes, economist at Iowa State University, that showed hog farmers will lose nearly $37 per hog, or $5 billion collectively, for each hog in the market during 2020.

“The pork industry is based on a just-in-time inventory system,” Roth said. “Hogs are backing up on farms with nowhere to go, leaving farmers with tragic choices to make. Dairy producers can dump milk. Fruit and vegetable growers can dump produce. But, hog farmers have nowhere to move their hogs.”