From one difficult year to the next: Swine producers face the impact of drought after the challenges of the pandemic on the industry

KELOLAND.com Original

HURLEY, S.D. (KELO)– As if the coronavirus pandemic didn’t take enough of a toll on the swine industry, producers are now having to face the challenges brought on by the drought.

Last year, there were not enough workers to work at the slaughter plant because of the pandemic.

“In my lifetime, I never thought we would ever see anything like that,” Steve Schmeichel, co-owner of Schmeichel Farms said.

But this year, he has to combat the new concerns that come with making a profit during the drought.

Schmeichel operates a diversified farm in Hurley, raising swine, cattle and crops. They utilize their grain to feed the livestock.

Swine producers are facing similar challenges as the cattle producers, Schmeichel said. Cost of production is the key to whether the operation can be profitable.

“We certainly hope for plentiful crops because we realize that when there’s not enough corn or there’s not enough soybeans, the grain prices go higher,” he said. “So we have great concerns, especially right now looking into what was maybe a little bit shorter year last year than what most people thought.”

Now, the producers are in a drought situation. Even though they have gotten some rains in the last few days, Schmeichel said it is critical because the pollination of the crops is happening right now. The heat is also something that affects pollination.

Producers are worried about having enough corn to make a profit and feed their livestock.

Having a diverse operation has helped the operation because they can raise their own grain and have some ground that they own, which keeps their cost of production down some, he said. But, they still have to have a price that allows them to make a profit.

Being diversified has its benefits, but it can also bring on some challenging decisions for producers. They have to decide how much grain they will need to hold back and save to feed their livestock.

“Typically we would sell some of it, but we’ve kind of quit doing that because we can’t,” he said. “We’ve got to be sure that we’ve got enough grain.”

Schmeichel said there will be grain in some places, but if they have to have it shipped in, it could come at high prices.

He is hoping for more July and August rains to finish out their row crops to create enough feed for the animals.

Grain prices are the big factor.

Over their lifetime, each pig will consume 10 to 12 bushels of corn and about 150 pounds of soybean meal, as well as some vitamins and minerals, Schmeichel said. That is why it is critical that the soybean and corn crops produce well so that producers can keep raising their pigs.

“So when you start adding up the numbers, it still takes grain in order for us to be able to feed them and be able to do a good job,” he said.

Schmeichel is hopeful that the swine industry will not get to the point where they have to sell off pigs earlier than normal.

“We had such disruption last year in our industry at the harvesting plants and that was probably one of more critical things that’s happened,” he said.

During that time, Schmeichel said a lot of people had to put their pigs on diets and sell pigs for prices that brought losses in order to keep their production systems going.

“Hopefully, we don’t get to the point where corn and soybeans become so expensive that we can’t afford to feed it to our animals, because ultimately the loser will be the consumer because that’s food for their table at a reasonable price,” he said.

Heat is another struggle that swine producers have to face. Pigs don’t sweat, so producers have to have cooling systems, which include misters, so that whenever the temperature gets above 82 or 83 degrees, the misters turn on to cool down the pigs.

“The pigs have got a pretty comfortable environment, it’s like being in an air condition system, we have plenty of air moving with the fans, but we need to cool them down,” Schmeichel said.

Pigs also need to be cooled down when they are getting loaded up to haul. Before every load leaves the yard, they get cooled down with water.

During the drought season, the swine industry has been very fortunate that they have been able to stay at profitable prices in the swine market, even with the expensive corn prices, Schmeichel said.

If the drought had happened last year, it would have been extremely tough to stay in business, he said. With the prices right now, they are able to make a profit, which is better than the last year that they have had.

“We never lost so much money as we did during those times,” Schmeichel said.

During the pandemic, he had to get creative when it came to selling pigs. They sold their pigs to seven or eight different states and to all kinds of different markets.

Schmeichel was fortunate to not have to euthanize any of his animals.

“That’s a tough thing to do, to have an animal that you’ve raised and that you created for food for the people and have to euthanize them and then not be able to utilize them wouldn’t have made much sense,” he said. “So, we sold them and it just wasn’t for profit and that’s what we had to do in order to be able to keep things going.”

The industry has been able to rebound some since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schmeichel said. They have seen a tremendous demand in the retail market. But, some local lockers are already full for all of next year.

A great demand for pork has been created, he said, since a lot of people have decided to eat at home.

“I think long-term for both the pork and the beef industry, it will be better because the demand will stay high and we found out lots of people can cook at home too,” he said.

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