Congress Needs to Help Hog Farmers Still in Crisis

TO CELEBRATE NATIONAL PORK MONTH, HOTH IS TURNING OVER ITS AUTHORSHIP TO GUEST HOSTS TO OFFER UNIQUE PERSPECTIVES AND EXPERIENCES IN OUR SECTOR. THIS THIRD HOTH IS PENNED BY IOWA PORK PRODUCERS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT-ELECT DENNIS LILJEDAHL.

 

Tell us about your hog farming operation.

My father started our farming operation in 1957 by renting the farm that is currently our base of operations and is the home I grew up in.  When Dad rented the farm, he also bought the previous renter’s sows, so pigs have continuously been on our farm since 1957. The farm was established in the early 1900s and hog farming was likely part of previous operations.

My Dad gave me two sows to farrow in a four-pen farrowing house when I was around 11.  There was something satisfying seeing a new litter all comfortable under a heat lamp, even though it meant turning the momma sow out for feed and water twice a day.  When I joined 4-H, it was natural for pigs to be my project.  After graduating from Iowa State University, I returned to the farm.  Currently, my wife Diane and I farm with our son Drew and his wife Candice.  We enjoy raising pigs and harvesting crops, and relish the rural lifestyle.

 

What challenges have you/producers in your state faced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was fortunate to have just emptied my barns before pork plants in the Midwest started to slow down, or even go into temporary shutdowns as a result of COVID-related supply chain disruptions. Many Iowa pig farmers were not as lucky. I was involved in several phones calls and webinars as producers discussed changing feed rations, finding empty buildings, or even increasing their stocking rates in barns.

Producers understood that animal care was key and that keeping hogs in the food chain was important. In Iowa, we were fortunate that the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA), the state department of agriculture, and the Iowa Pork Industry Center (IPIC) worked together to connect producers with the best resources to answer questions and provide technical assistance on feeding, stocking rates and even euthanasia information and resources.

Another step IPPA took to provide information to Iowa pig farmers was a series of economic recovery seminars we planned, again with IPIC.  Those seminars are available for anyone to review at https://www.ipic.iastate.edu/webinars.html

We know that even with these efforts, there are still Iowa pig farmers in crisis. That’s why it’s important for Congress to consider the financial assistance that the pork industry has requested, and that there continues to be work on securing a pathway for labor resources so there are options, especially if the food supply chain finds itself in another precarious position this winter.

 

What help can Congress provide to ensure U.S. pork producers weather the COVID-19 crisis? 

Even before March, the country’s pork producers had been raising issues about labor concerns and the need for Congress to take some action to improve the situation. The H-2A program was designed for seasonal workers, and certainly caring for pigs or working at our country’s packing plants is not seasonal work. We would like to see thoughtful visa reform.

With the onset of the pandemic here in the U.S., pig farmers – through the National Pork Producers Council – have reached out to Congress for actions that will be meaningful for pig farmers across the country. They include:

  • compensation for the lost value of euthanized and donated hogs. This should include related costs for donation and disposal.
  • additional direct payments to pig farmers without restrictions currently in place for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and CFAP2.
  • additional funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have assisted and shared resources with public health partners during the COVID crisis. In Iowa, the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab has been a critical piece of this effort.
  • modification of the Commodity Credit Corporation charter so responses to an unexpected national emergency, like this pandemic, qualify for USDA funding.
  • enhancements to the Paycheck Protection Program to ensure eligibility for farmers who are sole proprietors.

Another action we have supported is increasing funding premium subsidies for livestock risk protection (LRP) insurance under USDA’s Risk Management Agency. These recent actions will make LRP more affordable for pig farmers and provide them better coverage than was available in the past.

 

Another top priority for U.S. pork producers is ensuring African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases don’t enter our country. What needs to be done to keep U.S. agriculture safe?

Our foreign animal disease (FAD) task force at IPPA is constantly working on plans and looking for vulnerabilities to guard against outbreaks. However, this must be a national effort.

While any FAD is a concern, the nation’s pig farmers and pork-producing industry have been especially focused on ASF since China announced its outbreak in August 2018.  With the recent episode in Germany, it’s critical that we not let our guard down for the sake of our export market and for the pigs we raise.

Agricultural inspectors at the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Patrol are our first line of defense to ensure our nation’s $1 trillion agriculture sector is safe and remains so. A recent threat has been the loss of fees that resulted in reduced international travel into the United States. The reserve of Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program user fees has been depleted. Without a prompt resolution, there will be an estimated $630 million shortfall in funding through the end of fiscal year 2021. It is essential that this funding shortfall be addressed.

We’re urging Congress to provide appropriate funding for 720 new agricultural inspectors at land, air and seaports so we can continue to keep FADs from crossing into the United States.

 

On a lighter note, how do you plan to celebrate National Pork Month? 

Our local organization, Page County Pork Producers, has sponsored pork advertising and grilling events in the past during Pork Month. This year we have changed our focus more towards social media.  The staff at our local radio station, KMA, and at IPPA helped create a digital Sunday Dinner promotion on the station’s social media pages.  October brings some late evenings on the farm, but a 145-degree chop tastes wonderful regardless of the time.