As meat sector suffers, U.S. pig farmers left without market

Crowded and clamoring in cages, the hogs at Mike Patterson's Minnesota farm won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

The world's biggest meat companies like Smithfield and Tyson Foods are shutting down their slaughterhouses and processing plants across the U.S., meaning Patterson's hogs may be left to face a very different fate -- being euthanised for no reason other than having nowhere else to go.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE PATTERSON, MINNESOTA FARMER, SAYING :

"You know, the longer we go with plants shut down, the more plants that shut down, this this problem is just going to be getting bigger and bigger."

Shutdowns have sent shockwaves through the nation's food supply chain, limiting food supplies for grocers.

Pork has been hit especially hard, with daily production cut by a third.

Unlike cattle, which can be housed outside on pasture, pigs are raised inside temperature-controlled buildings.

Their barns must be emptied out by sending adult hogs out to slaughter to make room for new piglets.

But with no pork companies buying his hogs -- farms like Patterson's face a serious problem of overcrowding.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE PATTERSON, MINNESOTA FARMER, SAYING:

"So there's really a backlog of animals. In our coop, we're trying to find every space that we have available to house those hogs. But at some point, if we aren't able to market hogs, something will have to give. We just don't have the space to house all the hogs we have."

Euthanising his animals is the last thing Patterson wants to do.


In an effort to satiate their hunger but slow their growth, he has resorted to giving his hogs soybean hulls to eat instead of normal feed for the time being.

The soybean hulls fill the animals' stomachs but offer little to no nutritional value.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE PATTERSON, MINNESOTA FARMER, SAYING :

"Our goal as farmers, we try the best we can to keep every animal alive and healthy and and so that we can produce quality pork for consumers. And you know anything that goes against that is is just pretty tough pretty tough for me to even think about."

Farmers nationwide are now pleading for help.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said late Friday (April 24) it will help farmers find markets for their livestock, or help euthanize and dispose of animals as necessary.

But according to the National Pork Producers Council, hog farmers across the U.S. will still lose an estimated $5 billion for the rest of the year.