Listen Live

(WISH) — The supply and price of pork products at your local grocery store will be impacted by the temporary closing of two Indiana pork processing plants after outbreaks of coronavirus.

Nationwide, at least 15 plants have closed.

Keith Shockettner is by today’s standards a fairly large producer of pork. His farm raises 23,000 pigs a year, and getting them to market at the right time is a well-orchestrated dance balancing available space with newborn piglets.

“There really is no good way to hold the animals that are market-ready. Certainly, we can work through ways to keep them comfortable while they are waiting, but when they are ready to go, they are ready to go and we need to find a home for them,” said Shockettner.

Pork producing plants are highly labor-intensive operations that do not afford much personal space. Nationwide, about 60% of the pork-producing capacity is down due to virus outbreaks among the workforce. Supply and demand would dictate that prices will go up, but more important is the security of our food chain.

“Certainly it has brought to light the importance of a steady food chain in the United States and the world,” said Shockettner.

Indiana is the fifth largest producer of pork in the country. The shuttering of the pork processors put a kink in the food supply chain, according to Andrew Westfal, the Purdue Extension agent in White County.

“This is causing a chain reaction to all sorts of industries, from grain farms to livestock farms, even small produce farms and farmers markets,” said Westfal.

How long the plants are closed will have a direct bearing on future supplies. As of right now, Shockettner has room for piglets and hogs ready for market and has not had to put any down.

“We are two to three weeks away from having to make the hard decision and that decision is only made when the animal welfare is put into jeopardy. That is a decision that is the least favorable but it is more favorable than animals that’s welfare is compromised,” said Shockettner.

Pork producers had a rough year in 2019 because of trade disagreements with China, and 2020 was supposed to be much better until the pandemic hit.