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Iowa program successfully routing pork to food banks

Iowa ag department launches fourth round of disposal program after lower-than-anticipated numbers.

Even as Iowa’s hog producers continue to deal with a backlog of animals, the Iowa Pork Producers Assn. (IPPA) announced that its Pass the Pork program -- which has enabled Iowa pig farmers to help bring nearly 200,000 servings of pork to food-insecure Iowa residents -- is entering a new phase. After nearly three months of securing 451 donated pigs and funds to pay for processing at local meat lockers that had extended their work hours to help out, the program will switch processing to the Iowa State University (ISU) Meat Laboratory. The money for processing will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act.

When the program began April 27, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship (IDALS) partnered with IPPA, local meat lockers and the Iowa Food Bank Assn. (IFBA) to address two problems created by the novel coronavirus: (1) hogs on farms that couldn't move into their typical marketing channels and (2) an increasing need at food banks working to support unemployed community members.

Unfortunately, these two situations still exist.

"We know that producers are going through an extremely challenging time, and we are pursuing every option to help," Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig said. "We worked with Gov. Kim Reynolds to secure CARES Act funds to cover processing costs for the Pass the Pork program. This is just one way the state is supporting producers while providing locally grown protein for hungry Iowans."

Through the generosity of people across the state, the first phase of Pass the Pork raised $115,000 to process 50,000 lb. of pork, which IFBA has distributed to all six regional food banks serving Iowa.

"Although we have had challenges on the farm, we also see our friends and neighbors struggling with jobs and wondering how they will put food on the table, too. By moving into Phase II of Pass the Pork, we can continue to bring pork to our local communities when they need it most," said IPPA president Mike Paustian, a Walcott, Iowa, farmer.

In Phase II, pigs will be delivered to the ISU Meat Lab for processing beginning in mid-August and continuing through early November. IPPA will coordinate the delivery of pigs.

"We are very grateful for the opportunity to be able to help those in need while training students at the same time," ISU Extension meat specialist Terry Houser said. "It is great to see what we can accomplish when industry and state resources come together for such a worthy cause. We have a great staff of caring, hardworking individuals at the ISU Meat Lab ,and without them, all this would not be possible."

IFBA executive director Linda Gorkow said, “The pandemic resulted in double-digit increases in need for food in Iowa, so our deepest appreciation goes to all who have made the Pass the Pork program a reality. This innovative initiative is making an impact to ensure essential protein is made available to thousands of Iowans in need of food assistance."

The ISU Meat Lab is also working to process Iowa beef for the state's food banks. The pork and beef efforts are both part of Reynolds' Feeding Iowans Task Force, led by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

Farmers interested in donating pigs to this second phase of Pass the Pork should contact IPPA.

State adds another round of disposal program

Naig announced this week that IDALS is continuing the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program to support Iowa farmers. Pork and egg producers forced to euthanize and dispose of market-ready and weaned pigs or layer hens because of supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 are eligible for the fourth round of the disposal assistance funding.

“Iowa is the largest producer of pork and egg products, and our farmers have been unduly affected by supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Naig said. “The disposal assistance program is just one way the state is trying to help producers through this very difficult time.”

According to IDALS, when round three of the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program ended on July 8, only 16 producers had filed claims for 64,641 euthanized hogs, coming in lower than the 102,168 hogs estimated at the end of June.

“When producers apply for the program, they provide an estimate of how many animals they may need to euthanize. Then, they are required to file claims reporting how many they actually euthanized,” a spokesperson for IDALS told Feedstuffs. “The initial estimates were higher than the actual number of animals euthanized.”

Because numbers were lower than expected, the spokesperson said the state is able to offer “round four,” which runs through Aug. 6.

ISU livestock economist Lee Schulz currently estimates that Iowa still has about 400,000 hogs backlogged.

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