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Ohio pork producers look to alternatives while plants close

Posted at 5:40 PM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 19:32:25-04

SMITHVILLE, Ohio  — David Shoup runs one of the 3,500 hog farms in the state. Shoup, three of his brothers and a cousin continue a family business.

"We're going to say 50-55 years," Shoup said.

That's the number Shoup gets when he adds up all the time he has spent tending for pigs in Wayne County.

"Farmers are eternal optimists," he said standing outside one of several barns on his property.

If the Ohio native and veterinarian is phased by the current state of pork in the United States, he won't show it.

"I love it," he said about his life. "I love it. What a better way to start your day."

The market-ready hogs from Shoup Brother's Farm are sent to packing plants when they hit around 280 pounds. Most of those plants are out of state.

"So they go to Indiana to packing plants. They'll go to Coldwarter, Michigan or they'll go to Kentucky," said Cheryl Day.

Day is the Executive Director for the Ohio Pork Council. She said Ohio ranks eighth in the country for pork production. There are more than two million pigs processed per year from the state and big processors like Smithfield plants across the U.S. are crucial to getting pork to shoppers.

"Our packing capacity has just enough room for the amount of pigs we're growing," Day said.

So with plants closing because of COVID-19, pigs could be left in barns. Day said the plants are doing everything they can to process meat.

"But there is only so much they can process in a week," she said.

While some plants are reopening, smaller workforce changes have been made on farms like Shoup Brothers, like maintaining when the pigs are ready for market.

"We slow their growth," Shoup said. "We buy ourselves some time."

If plants can not process the pigs and farmers can not find a place for their meat to go, market-ready hogs have been euthanized in some states.

Both Day and Shoup stressed that is not happening in Ohio.

The plant closures are why shoppers aren't seeing as much meat on the shelves. Day said when pork does return to supermarkets shoppers could pay a little more.

Despite the prices in grocery stores, Day said farmers are losing nearly $40 per pig.

"This could be, for some, financial ruins," she said.

Shoup is trying to keep his farm running. He's sent his pigs to food banks that need pork. He's also utilized smaller, state run plants to help process pigs for private buyers. His optimism extends past the pandemic.

"I think long term looks good for us," he said.

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