Hog Producer Turns to Facebook to Sell Pigs

May 22, 2020  | 6 min  | Ep4540

Producers in the 10 states surveyed by Creighton University's Rural Mainstreet Index are trying to find ways to at best, break even.

Livestock operators are searching for new options as processing plants slow their intake of product.

John Torpy reports.

For the better part of a month, the supply chain providing meat to U.S. consumers has been coping with the impact of COVID-19. With close to half of the nation’s slaughter capacity closed or greatly reduced, consumers are left with purchase limits and limited choice at the meat counter. For producers, many are left with the task of euthanizing perfectly healthy animals because there is nowhere to take them for processing.
Brad Benda, Hog Producer:” We were scheduled to have our barn empty by May 5th. Um, we got a little pushback, you know, in scheduling. It seemed like it took forever to kind of get loads lined up. And then when we did have it lined up, they were canceled occasionally, but we lucked out as far as being able to get them out and gone. Barns cleaned out and we restocked again. And that would be the pigs that then Jake took control of.”

Brad and Jacob Benda are a father and son team working on a multi-family operation in east central Iowa. They farm around 2,800 acres and raise close to 5,000 head of hogs annually. 
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: ”The packer notified us that, you know, they're not gonna be able to guarantee the numbers that our contract that we have with them for shackle space. /we were basically had a load scheduled, they would get canceled or pushed back, rescheduled to other days. Um, what normally would take about like three weeks to clean out a 1,200 head building took about six, just shy of six weeks.”
Packing plants continued to close due to coronavirus outbreaks among their employees, causing a bottleneck for livestock producers trying to get their animals to market.
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: “So we were just, and it was every day phone calls to the buyer, you know, can we get a load in this week? Can we get two loads in this week? Can we get any loads in this week?” 

Time was against Benda and other producers like them. While packers could not take hogs, producers had nowhere to send the contracted animals as new pigs were on the way to fill barns that were already at maximum capacity.
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: “That awful realization of if you had to actually euthanize pigs to, you know, get to be able to take that next group of babies coming in or you would try and find somewhere to put them for a temporary holding. Um, there's so many, so many different things that you can do. And then, you know, ultimately if none of that can be found, then you have, you'd have to euthanize the animal.”

In an effort to avoid culling part of his herd, Jacob Benda turned to social media as another avenue to sell his animals.
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: ”I was telling dad, it's like, you know, what if I put out there that, you know, this is where we're at, kind of be vulnerable as a producer. I mean, and you know, say we're in a tight spot, we're going to try and you know, if there's any interest in these pigs, they're not at market price. Because, you know, in a co in our co-op, you know, we have a cost of production and that's what it costs us and you know, a couple dollars of feed and we, we need to, we need to try and move these.”

What happened next astounded the Benda’s.
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: ”It blew up. Just went crazy. I mean crazy is kind of the best word I can use to describe it. Um, I, it started off with, you know, friends sharing and then friends of friends shared it and the friends of the friends of the friends that shared it shared. And um, within, I believe two days it was over a couple thousand shares. And then as of, I think yesterday was 21 or 21 and a half thousand shares… I got calls or messages from everywhere. Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, California, everywhere. Can you ship me a pig? So just blew up.”

The social media post ended up moving a portion of the Benda’s inventory, helping them avoid the possibility of having to euthanize pigs.
Jacob Benda, Hog Producer: “We've got rid of through about 30 percent of the feeder pigs that we had. If I was able to go through and actually respond to everybody on Facebook, I would have that building, that 1,200 head building, sold over probably twice.”

But even with the success found in an unlikely arena, the operation still has hurdles to jump over as the coronavirus continues to rewrite “normal” for agriculture.
Brad Benda, Hog Producer: “We're out for maximum production in our sow unit. So to scale that back prematurely would be a bad deal, you know? So I think it's just a moment by moment, month by month kind of decision going forward on whether or not this does return to normal, if normal ever be reached.

This week, the USDA unveiled a $16 billion aid package aimed at assisting livestock producers like the Benda’s who are affected by processing plant closures due to the coronavirus. 
Brad Benda, Hog Producer: “What the president offers is going to help out, you know, a lot, you know, because you still have, uh, commitments, you know, short term feed bills to pay, stuff like that. Um, but yet I also hope that in that, that there is something sorted out that they can get this packing plants back up to a hundred percent.” 

For Market to Market, I’m John Torpy

Producer Contact: ttorpy@iowapbs.org



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