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Preparing for worst; hoping for best

A view of hogs on Jamin Ringger's farm in McLean County / photo provided.

GRIDLEY – COVID-19’s impact on the livestock industry is being felt close to home.

Some are trying to crowd pigs as humanely as possible by setting up old barns to hold the animals.

“There’s unfortunately going to be quite a few hogs euthanized this week or on sow farms, you are going to see some sows that are going to be aborted,” McLean County hog producer Jamin Ringger said.

Ringger hopes they won’t have to euthanize any hogs on his farm, calling the entire situation unfortunate. A friend near Stanford has offered an empty barn to store pigs until Ringger can get rid of some.

Many livestock producers such as Ringger are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best in the face of uncertainty surrounding plant shutdowns and sick workers. Getting plants back online would be huge for ag right now.

Shutdowns mean producers are not able to go anywhere with their market hogs so it is resulting in a bottleneck. Not only is there nowhere to go, but baby pigs are being born every day. The situation has gotten serious and will get much more serious in the next couple of weeks if plants don’t re-open.

Hog producers were harvesting around 480,000 to 500,000 head a day before meat plants started shutting down. Now, there are roughly a million pigs a week not harvested which must go somewhere.

Many are trying to get pigs into the local meat lockers but much of those facilities are booked through the summer months.

“We’ve sold about 80 head through that,” Ringger explained. “It’s just not near enough capacity to handle what we’ve got that needs to go to market right now.”

Ringger hopes the government steps in to keep workers safe and healthy. In some processing plants, the lines are slowed and capacity is decreased, but at least they are operating.

The Ringgers buy weaned pigs at about 12 pounds on their Gridley operation and are in a contract to buy 1,800 pigs every nine weeks. This means every couple of months, they must load out hogs that are ready for market as they are getting new pigs in – a cycle that keeps happening.

In addition to the hog operation, Ringger raises corn, soybeans and wheat in McLean and Livingston counties. He enjoyed good weather during April to get a lot of crops in the ground before several inches of rain slowed farmers down late in the month.

“I’d say most of the area is probably 30-40 percent done with both corn and beans,” he said.

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