Hoosier agriculture experts warn of higher meat prices as Trump prepares to sign order

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Image via Tyson Foods

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As President Trump plans to sign an executive order to force meat processing plants to remain open during the COVID-19 crisis, Indiana agriculture experts are warning of higher meat prices and fewer selections at the grocery store.

The recent temporary closures of Tyson Foods in Logansport and Indiana Packers Corporation in Delphi has put a halt to nearly half of Indiana’s pork processing, according to Indiana Pork Executive Director, Josh Trenary.

“Most Indiana hog farmers sell to six different plants in five different states,” Trenary said. “With Indiana Packers and Tyson closing, that leaves 43-percent of Indiana production with no market outlet. 43-percent of the pigs in Indiana, by our estimate, with nowhere to go right now.”

As pigs continue to grow and farms run out of space, animal welfare issues arise, Trenary said.

“They can get overcrowded and limit their access to food and water and at that point, it’s a humane issue,” he added.

At this time, Trenary is not aware of any Indiana farmers who have euthanized any pigs for humanitarian reasons. However, he said many farmers are having to make some hard decisions right now.

“That’s going to be an individual management decision by every farmer, so I don’t have anyway to speculate on that,” Trenary said. “We know that there’s some of that occurring across the country.”

Putnam County hog farmer Mark Legan said his farm has not euthanized any animals, but it has been part of recent conversation.

“We are making plans,” Legan said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but hope isn’t a good business plan at this stage”

Indiana market analyst Bob Utterback believes even a short disruption in the food supply chain will likely lead to higher meat prices at grocery stores.

“At this moment, we have plenty of supply,” Utterback said. “We just can’t get it from point A to point B. We can’t get it from the farmer’s production facility to the grocery store in a timely manner.”

Utterback believes the best-case scenario now is for the two Indiana plants to only be for only a couple weeks. Even then, however, meat prices and selection could see a price jolt several months down the road.

“I think it’s probably early fall, August, September before you really start seeing that jolt,” Utterback said. “And then it will be a sustained time period.”

If closures last longer than a couple weeks and other plants remain closed around the country, Utterback says meat prices and selection could be affected for 6 to 8 months.

“And it’s going to have a problem impact on school systems, when school goes back,” Utterback said.  “They’re going to have impact on getting supply.”

Jeff Feirick, Vice President Corporate Planning for Indiana Packers Corporation, released a statement Tuesday:

“IPC is committed to making the best possible decisions to protect its team members and the community. To help in this process, IPC is working closely with the Indiana State Department of Health and the Carroll County Health Department as it establishes a plan to resume operations. As part of that collaboration, and recognizing the importance of Indiana Packers’ role in the food chain and supporting Hoosier farmers, the State Department of Health is conducting COVID-19 testing for all employees at the Delphi facility.

The testing will start April 30 and is expected to occur over a two-day period, with results thereafter. IPC team members will be contacted either by phone or email to schedule their
test. The State Department of Health, working in conjunction with the appropriate county health officials, will be in communication with all those who test positive for follow-up care and investigation.

After employee testing is complete, officials at IPC will identify a date to resume operations.”

A Tyson Foods representative declined to comment on a pending executive order from the White House.

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