COVID restricts meat supply, even in pork-rich Iowa

AMES, Iowa- Iowa farmers raise millions of hogs each year, but their customers, including fellow Iowans in this top pork producing state, may not be able to buy as much as they'd like to, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it's having on meat processing plants in the state and across the nation. Some grocery stores are beginning to limit meat purchases, even in this pork-rich state.

Iowa State University Agriculture Economist Chad Hart says grocery stores imposing restrictions on meat purchases are trying to be proactive, given the slow-downs at meat processing plants, caused by COVID-19 infections among workers. Hart says the stores recognize that supplies may be limited for key products, so restrictions will help spread out the remaining supply.

Hart says meat processing plant slow-downs are causing difficult decisions for hog producers who depend on the large facilities. He notes local lockers can process some animals, but not nearly as many as the larger plants, such as Tyson in Waterloo, which may process 20,000 hogs per day. He says it's likely there are some producers in Iowa who are having to reduce their herds because of the current hiccup in the system. Farmers need to move the hogs that are ready, to make way for the arrival of the next herd of animals. Hart says if something breaks down in the system it creates a bottleneck and difficult decisions.

Hart says the situation demonstrates the nation's dependence on just-in-time delivery of food and food products.

Iowa health officials have announced more than 1,600 employees of meat processing plants across the state have been infected with COVID-19, and the result has been continued slow-downs at the facilities.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds says the state is working daily with the plants, to ensure that there's adequate personal protective equipment, and plants are taking a number of steps to protect employees. She says employees entering the plants must be wearing masks, there are temperature scans, partitions in place, and efforts to increase social distancing, all efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

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