Illinois pork industry recovering after COVID-19 disruptions

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After a summer of supply disruptions thanks to COVID-19, the pork industry is back on track.

In Illinois, Jennifer Tirey, executive director for the Illinois Pork Producers Association, said plants are back up to approximately 95% capacity.

“The biggest change was that we were able to identify the issues in the packing plants and get our animals harvested in a timely manner,” Tirey said. “The bottleneck occurred when we had shutdowns in the packing plants.”

When the coronavirus hit, employees were either sick or afraid to come to work. Since then, packing plants have focused on creating a safe work environment so that employees could return, statedTirey.

“I don’t expect we’ll be back up to a hundred percent because our packing plants had to make changes within their plants to protect the safety of their employees,” Tirey said.

The industry learned some valuable lessons in the last several months, she said.

“Our supply chain can be very fragile; so it’s very important to keep an eye on that situation and making sure that our labor force at the packing plants continue to stay well, and that we are able to support them and make sure they are safe and healthy in the packing plants because it’s so important in order to get our product to market,” Tirey said.

While things are looking better now, Tirey says the pandemic is unpredictable and there’s always a chance things could go south again. She said she hopes they’ll keep what they’ve learned in mind.

“I’m hopeful we won’t see the same things happening with our supply chain, but we always have to be on alert to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Tirey said.

Over the summer, Illinois pork farmers were fortunate in that they did not have to dispose of many market sized hogs, Tirey said. Many who ended up with stock they couldn’t process gave animals to food banks.

“During this pandemic, they would rather see this protein going to families in need than to have to put an animal down unnecessarily,” Tirey said.

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