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Livestock farmers closely watching outbreaks at food processing plants

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) - Decreased demand from the restaurant industry as well as less production capacity at food processing plants has tanked the price of pork since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The price has basically been cut in half over a very short time," Chad Hart said, an agriculture economics professor at Iowa State University.

Hart says the futures market for pork was around 70 to 80 dollars for 100 pounds of meat to start the year; now, it's hovering around $35-40.

Hart says there's a backup at the processing point, with facilities across the country closing or slowing production to combat the virus --there was an 86-person outbreak confirmed today at a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction.

Meat-packers are turning to their suppliers and saying "we don't need as many pigs," who are re-iterating that message to local farmers.

"So, you're seeing hog producers across the country all deal with this price cut by looking at how they can shrink production on their own individual farms," Hart said.

Emily Snider, a hog and grain farmer in Cedar and Johnson County, says it's been harder to sell undersized pigs since the outbreak (ones that may have had trouble getting to their feeders).

"Where are our hogs going to go now?" Snider said.

While their usual orders have not been significantly affected, she says she's closely monitoring the situation to see if a processing plant they sell to gets hit by the virus.

"Right now, it's still normal for us. But, you never know what might happen," Snider said.

Professor Hart says the diary industry has also been hit by processing problems; as facilities transition away from small cartons for school lunches, to more gallon jugs for grocery stores.

Hart says the price of milk has gone from $16-18 for 100 lbs. of milk a few months ago down to around $11.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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