Over the past few days, spring has sprung, and according to the National Weather Service, we can look forward to mild nights, and warm days for at least the next week. Here in the country, I know it’s spring, because irrigation sprinklers have come alive, a necessary evil for farmers in the Four Corners. I remember that an old farmer I met years ago told me, “This durn irrigation is like milkn’ cows. Oncen’t you start it, you can’t stop it till the water’s all gone.“
There’s no sense going over agricultural commodity prices again this week because most of them are are the same or lower then they were a week ago. But Covid-19 related livestock slaughter plant closures are dealing pork producers and cattle feeders considerable grief. At least 11 hog slaughter plants and the same number of beef slaughter facilities are closed from Colorado into the heart of the corn belt. While the futures market prices for lean hogs has been somewhat stable for a few days, many pork producers now have no place to ship their 260 to 280 pound market-ready animals. While pork producers can hold their animals for a few days, the cost of feeding and housing them continues to mount, along with their pig’s weight, which in turn, lowers their value. Some large scale hog operations in the Midwest have taken to selling some of their finished pigs to individual buyers who have small, local processing plants slaughter and freeze the animals for home use. Producers are reporting that the sale price for these pigs ranges from $90 to $125 per head on the hoof, which is about one half to two thirds of what the producers would get if they were able to deliver them to large slaughter plants. Fed cattle also start to lose value if they are held in the feedlot after they reach ideal market weight of from 1,250 to 1,400 lbs. Lately, when cattle have reached this weight, cattle feeders have already lost about $162 per head, so having to feed cattle past their ideal weight is a money losing process, costing about $50 bucks a week in accumulated expenses, and resulting in cattle that will likely be docked because they’re carrying extra fat when they finally reach a slaughter plant.
Although I reported last week that meat industry experts contended that there was plenty of meat in cold storage, and that shortages in stores were unlikely, this week, meat isles in some grocery stores had slim pickings according to recent news stories. However, some Four Corners farmers and ranchers have seen increased sales to local consumers, but they report that their meat supplies are sufficient to fill the demands of local consumers. Two good sources of information about local farms that sell produce and meat are at the Southwest Producers web site, www.southwestproducers.org and at the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative website, www.southwestfarmfresh.com. Links to these organizations are at the Farm News and Views blog site.
While congress has passed four aid programs to help mitigate the effects of Covid-19 in the U.S., most of the funds for these programs are directed at non agriculture businesses. However, agricultural producers should check with their accountants to determine which features of this legislation may apply to their farms or ranches. For example, even if a farm has no employees, the operator may qualify for a self employment tax credit.
Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”