With meat processing plants closing, Ohio farmers left with few options

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — With many meat processing plants closing or cutting production due to COVID-19 infections among employees, Ohio farmers have fewer options to get their livestock to market.

Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Ty Higgins said the coronavirus has, “put a big golf ball in the garden hose in the middle part of our food supply system.”

“Processing plants aren’t able to function at full capacity and that leaves the farmer in a tough situation back on the farm, having to hold back animals that would normally be ready to go to the processing plant to be consumed by us,” Higgins said.

The supply chain issue has led some grocery stores to limit customer purchase of meat.

According to a Giant Eagle spokesperson, the limits were put in place not because of a supply shortage but because of increased demand from customers.

Giant Eagle’s statement reads:

In recent days, our supermarkets have experienced increased guest demand for products in our meat department. To discourage bulk purchasing and ensure that we have product available for as many guests as possible, we are temporarily limiting the number of ground beef and advertised meat products guests can purchase at once. In a single transaction, guests are able to purchase two packages of ground beef and up to two of each meat item advertised in our weekly circular.

It is important to note that these temporary purchase limits are not indicative of meat supply issues but are based on increased demand by some guests. We work with several suppliers to provide our guests with a wide variety of options, which helps us maintain consistent product availability.

Heimerl Farms in Licking County is one of the state’s largest hog farms. Brad Heimerl said raising livestock is a carefully timed and coordinated process.

“Similar to peaches on a tree, there’s a right time to be pick and be sold,” Heimerl said. “With our pigs, they’re very lean, they’re very efficient with what they do, they’re growing.  And so in the barns that we have, they’re getting bigger and bigger.” 

Heimerl says 2020 will be a challenging year for Ohio farmer and not very prosperous in terms of getting pigs to market.

“Even though some packers are still open, they’re not harvesting as many and so, of course, that slows everything down,” he said. “It’s a slow down that I think will be here for much of the summer as far as getting back up on our feet.”

Coronavirus in Ohio resources:

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