Market News & Headlines >> Slaughter Plant Closures Continue

The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc in the U.S. livestock sector, with hog and cattle slaughter plants being forced to temporarily close or slow operations due to Covid-19 outbreaks among workers and increased absenteeism due to safety concerns. 

With Tyson Foods announcing on Wednesday the indefinite closure of its Waterloo, Iowa pork processing plant, more than 11% of U.S. hog slaughter capacity has now been idled by Covid-19. And an estimated 50-75% of U.S. hog and cattle slaughter facilities are said to be running at reduced levels. 

The Waterloo plant has a daily slaughter capacity of 19,500 head, matching the capacity of Smithfield Foods’ plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., which closed indefinitely on April 14 after more than 200 workers there tested positive for Covid-19. Meanwhile, on Monday JBS USA announced it was indefinitely suspending operations at its 20,000 head per day hog slaughter plant in Worthington, Minnesota. 

Tyson’s Columbus Junction, Iowa hog processing plant, with a capacity of 10,100 head, which had been closed since April 13 reopened on Tuesday. Tyson also closed an 8,250 head per day hog slaughter plant in Perry, Iowa for deep cleaning on Monday after a worker tested positive for Covid-19 there, but that plant also came back on line on Tuesday. 

Wednesday’s federally inspected hog slaughter was estimated at 363,000 head, down 82,000 head from last week and down nearly 27% from the average weekday slaughter in March of more than 495,000 head.

With slaughter capacity down significantly, many producers have no where to go with their hogs. The Iowa Pork Producers Association told the Des Moines Register that some of its members were talking with veterinarians about euthanizing hogs, but the group said it didn't believe producers had started destroying animals. 

Beef processing plants have also been hit hard by Covid-19 cases. National Beef processing on Monday reopened its 1,100-head Tama, Iowa cattle processing plant, which had been closed for two weeks for cleaning. JBS also reopened its beef processing plant in Souderton, Pa. on Monday. However, other cattle slaughter plants remain closed, including IBP’s 5,400-head facility in Greeley, Colorado; and many are operating at reduced levels. 

Several beef processing plants in Nebraska have reported Covid-19 outbreaks. As of Sunday, authorities had reported at least six cases of COVID-19 linked to the Tyson meatpacking plant in Madison, Nebraska, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. This news followed an announcement on Friday by Tyson that employees of its plant in Dakota City had tested positive. 

Wednesday’s federally inspected cattle slaughter was estimated at 85,000 head, down more than 28% from an average weekday slaughter of nearly 119,000 head in March, before slaughter plant closures started.