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RCC launched to assist livestock producers

By Staff | May 13, 2020

By KRISS NELSON

editor@farm-news.com

In an attempt to assist livestock producers with developing issues surrounding the industry, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) has formed a Resource Coordination Center (RCC).

The efforts are designed to support Iowa livestock producers affected by the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions. According to IDALS, COVID-19 outbreaks in the workforce are causing many meat processing facilities to run below normal operating capacity, creating challenges for producers who are trying to convert livestock to food products.

“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives, including our food supply chain,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “This is creating numerous challenges for producers and forcing them to make unimaginable decisions. We want producers to know they’re not alone. We have assembled a team of people who are here to connect producers with information and resources as they work through this difficult time.”

IDALS is collaborating with public and private partners to operate the RCC including the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Pork Industry Center and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“We have pulled together some of the best resources in the state to help those Iowa pig farmers working through difficult circumstances,” said Mike Paustian, IPPA president and pig farmer near Walcott. “Decisions that will be made in the coming weeks must be the solution that can work best for individual farm situations. We encourage those farmers to call in with questions or go to the website to look at the resources available.

Jay Harmon, associate dean for Extension and Outreach for ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director for agriculture and natural resources extension and outreach at Iowa State said the RCC is in the beginning stages of the project that he compares to an incident command center similar to when there is a disaster.

“The creation of the RCC will allow both public and private organizations to mobilize their resources efficiently and effectively to help pork producers make well-informed decisions during this extremely difficult time,” said Harmon. “The team is currently set up to have resources to pull from and try to help answer specific questions and there’s a lot of people working together. They are doing a good job, I think of setting the team up and they’ll be flexible as they figure out what the problems are and the weaknesses are they can strengthen as they go.”

The biggest approach to the RCC, Harmon said is to try to help producers who are having their markets disrupted, how to help to ensure everybody is safe and healthy and to make sure pork production continues in order to not lose these farms forever.

“They have a lot of different things they are going to try to address,” he said. “There’s a checklist where people would work with a producer to help them make decisions. No. 1, of course, is talking to them about alternative markets, such as programs with food banks, however that is a drop in a bucket compared to what we are looking at.”‘

They will also connect producers with technical resources as they work through difficult and emotional decisions, including animal welfare euthanasia and disposal.

“They have to work with DNR and NRCS is factored into this because there are some program where they have to talk to NRCS first and they could get some help on some of the disposal cost as well,” said Harmon.

The RCC realizes the decision for a producer to euthanize animals is something not taken lightly and the mental health aspect of that decision and the overall impact of COVID-19 on the industry is being taken into consideration.

“That’s tough on people, because farmers like their animals. I think some people think farmers just look at animals like a dollar bill on hooves. I think most of them they’re in to this because they enjoy animals. They put a lot of their time and energy raising this animal and the animal means more to them than a profit or loss,” he said. “We are concerned with the people that do have to go through this. If you have to euthanize pigs, that’s going to have a big mental toll on the people involved in that. We are concerned about the welfare of the person and how they can get through this as well.”

IDALS encourages any producers feeling overwhelmed they can call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Through the RCC, livestock industry experts, state agencies and technical specialists will help producers explore every option to harvest livestock and meet the protein needs of Iowans.

“I am impressed,” said Harmon. “It’s a cool concept that they’ve done – just really help us mobilize together to help the producer.”

Partly because of his role as director of agriculture and natural resources at ISU Extension, Harmon said he will be supporting some of the field specialists that will be involved on the on-farm portion of the RCC.

“I am also well acquainted with disposal, I have done composting and work with getting rid of carcasses. I will probably play some role in that as well,” he said. “Our ag engineering field specialists and swine field specialists are well versed in those issues and some of the issues they will play a support role to help the producer.”

Iowa livestock producers can call the RCC at 515-725-1005, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. 4:30 p.m. or fill out a help form at iowafarmerhelp.com.

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