Backlog of pork continues to create challenges for processing plants

Distribution delays and coronavirus outbreaks at processing plants forced U.S. hog farmers to keep more animals on the farm, and the backlog continues to create challenges.

After months of delays, pork packers are operating at 95 percent capacity, according to U.S. economist Steve Meyer.

“We know with a high degree of confidence, we don’t think there’s been any market hogs euthanized since April and early May. We haven’t heard of much euthanization of younger pigs,” Meyer said. “So, even though our weights are current, which I think that’s where most people are drawing their conclusion that we’re current, I think there are a lot more hogs at those weights than we normally had in inventory, because producers have successfully used these control diets to slow their growth rate down so we didn’t overwhelm the plants.”

He added that hog numbers will remain large for the balance of the year and while there is concern, export demand is strong.

“The weekly data for the week before last was the smallest weekly total we’ve had to China since early October 2019, so that’s been going down,” he said. “We think that will probably reverse itself because Chinese prices have gone back up in recent weeks to approach their record highs that they set back in the spring, and so, we think that the need for product in China is still very large.”

Restrictions on food services will influence the number of hogs that can be harvested. However, Meyer credits the Pork Checkoff for their work in building demand.

According to the National Pork Board, in June, exports accounted for 24 percent of total pork production, that is over 31 percent for the first half of the year.