Iowa leaders ask federal indemnities for hog culling

Farmers across the nation may be forced to kill 700,000 hogs a week because of coronavirus closures and slowdowns at slaughter plants, said four Iowa political leaders in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Monday. Led by Gov. Kim Reynolds, the officials asked for federal indemnities to help the farmers stay in business.

Analysts Kerns and Associates estimated that 36 percent of U.S. hog slaughter capacity was idled on Monday, reported Successful Farming. The USDA announced the creation of a National Incident Coordination Center over the weekend to help producers look for alternative markets for their hogs or to provide assistance in euthanizing them. A USDA official was not immediately available on Monday to report on activity at the incident center.

“Simply put, Iowa pork producers cannot operate if they can’t send their pigs to market,” said the Iowans in writing to Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force. “We strongly urge that farmers are indemnified for their euthanized hogs, including costs associated with depopulation and environmentally sound disposal, to help preserve Iowa’s pork industry.”

Iowa is the No. 1 hog state, with 24.6 million head, or 32 percent of the U.S. inventory, at latest count.

The letter also sought federal help in restoring slaughter capacity while protecting workers from the coronavirus and for additional resources, beyond those announced by USDA, for culling large numbers of hogs. The USDA has equipment for mass culling of food animals, particularly poultry, access to contractors who handle the killing and disposal of herds, and cost-share money for disposal of carcasses.

Signing the letter were Reynolds, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and state Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig. All are Republicans.

According to unofficial accounts, hog producers would receive $1.6 billion in cash from the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced on April 17.