Retailers depend on Christmas sales to make a good year, said Greg Boerboom, who raises pigs outside Marshall, but the pig farmers' "Christmas" season is the summer and it wasn't good this year.
Farming is a tough way to make a living, but it's especially difficult for pig farmers lately, say area pig producers, particularly due to concerns about the H1N1 flu, originally labeled as swine flu because of a suspected link to pigs, that has adversely affected the markets.
Boerboom runs a farrow to finish operation with 1,600 sows with the help of his wife, Paula; son, Mike; and some hired hands. Chad Lozinski of Minneota runs a wean to finish pig operation with 10,000 to 12,000 head on feed and has about 40 head of cattle a year. Steve Hennen of Ghent runs a farrow pig operation, sells iso-weans and has about 300 sows in a strictly family-run, diversified operation that includes 1,400 acres of crops and about 1,500 head of cattle. He has help from his brothers, dad; wife, Melissa; and six kids.
Photo by Jodelle Greiner
Greg Boerboom checks his pigs while walking through one of his barns outside Marshall recently. He and other pork producers say rumors about the H1N1 flu have adversely affected the markets and has made it a difficult time to be a pig producer.
All three men agree the past summer season was bad for pig producers, even though health officials have repeatedly said humans cannot contract H1N1 from pigs.
"Exports are the biggest problem," Hennen. "I think it's the H1N1 and the economy. Other countries don't have the money and they're scared of H1N1."
"People believe you can catch swine flu from eating pork, so they don't buy pork - just because of what it was called," Boerboom said.
You can not get H1N1 flu from eating pork, he said, and all three farmers pointed out humans can give the flu to pigs, but it can't be transmitted from pigs to humans.
That's all true, verified Jeff Moberg, health educator with Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Public Health Services, adding health officials are more concerned right now with keeping the flu out of the swine herds.
"It's never been found in an American swine herd," Lozinski pointed out. "There's been a herd or two in Canada but a worker from Mexico brought it to Canada."
H1N1 originated in Mexico, Boerboom explained. "Consequently, our pork market to Mexico dried up," he said. "Exports is a big part of the U.S. market. Mexico was the No. 1 or No. 2 (customer), depending on the year."
"H1N1 costs the whole industry billions," Lozinski said. "H1N1 is costing us because consumption and demand is way down."
"The biggest challenge now is the market," Lozinski said. "Twenty to 30 dollars a head loss is where the market is at now."
"I've raised pigs for 35 years and this is the most depressed market I've seen in 35 years," Boerboom said.
"There was no summer rally," Lozinski said. "May, June, July - cream of the year. At that time (this year), the markets moved down instead of up."
Boerboom said the market was worse in the fall of 1998-99, but it lasted only a few months. "This current storm of low to no profits has been going on for two-three years," he said.
None of them are thinking of throwing in the towel, though.
"We need to get through fall and we'll be okay," Hennen said.
"Over time, there have been so many scares," Boerboom said. "H1N1 will run its course like so many. We've probably already faced the major impact of it."
The only way the farmers can combat the problem is to make sure the public knows the facts.
"Swine flu has nothing to do with pigs and we produce a healthy, safe source of food," Lozinski said.