The pork industry has experienced signficant disruptions in the supply chain after meat processsing plants across the country closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The University of Minnesota Extension is asking consumers to consider purchasing pork products regularly in order to help rejuvenate the hog industry.

The industry has experienced significant disruptions in the supply chain this year after meat processing plants across the country closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. What’s more, COVID-19 dining restrictions have led to a decreased demand from the restaurant industry, making matters worse.

With large-scale processing plants closing, farmers are rushing to offload their hogs at smaller processors, like Ruck’s Meat Market in Belle Plaine. Ruck’s owner Cliff Martens said his shop is booked for hog processing through February 2021. Usually, he said, they only book two weeks out.

“Farmers have been looking for other avenues because the slaughterhouses’ production capabilities are not back up to full speed yet due to the ones that shut down because of COVID-19,” Martens said.

Martens believes panic-purchasing helped exacerbate the shortage.

“I don’t think there would have been a meat shortage if people kept buying regularly, but people panicked and bought up freezers ... exactly like with toilet paper,” Martens said.

Scott County Extension Educator Colleen Carlson said farmers may be forced to euthanize hogs if demand does not increase.

“With beef, you can keep [the cows] on pasture a little bit longer, you can keep them on feed longer, whereas a pig gets too big,” Carlson said. “If you have a 300-pound pig and you’re trying to put it through a processing plant, everything is designed for a 280-pound pig ... So if they can’t find a buyer, this is the sad part, they have to euthanize them.”

“I’ve seen a lot of people buying hogs and getting together to slaughter six hogs, just so they can buy hogs from a farmer,” Martens said.

According to the UM-Extension study, widespread closures and partial closures of processing plants meant there was no market for approximately 45% of hogs that normally would have been processed during the last week of April. Researchers found a 15% drop in hog production could lead to an estimated loss of 2,100 jobs and $660 million in Minnesota’s economic activity.

“Resumption of processing and butchering alternatives will help offset some of the losses, but repercussions are expected to continue,” a UM-Extension news release said.

Purchasing pork

Ham roasts and bacon might be the first products well-intentioned customers grab off the shelves, but these types of cured meats take longer to process and put additional stress on the supply chain. Carlson suggested customers branch out and experiment with less common pork cuts.

“You can learn how to prepare a variety of cuts of meat for your family’s table and you can visit some of the commodity sites like MNbeef.org and Pork.org for new recipes,” Carlson said.