Farmers feeling the pain as more meat plants close

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Kane County officials recently closed a meat packing plant in suburban St. Charles to stop the spread of COVID-19 — a scenario that’s playing out across food production facilities across the country.

Chris Gould’s family has been farming land in southwestern Kane County for decades.  They breed pigs and plant soybeans and corn.

It doesn’t just pay the bills, there’s a sense of satisfaction, too.

“I think it’s the reward at the end of the day, or the end of the seasons – seeing the fruits of your labor,” Gould said.

Though, he acknowledges that “reward” is becoming harder to obtain during the pandemic.

“Sometimes you wonder how hard you want to work at this to lose a bunch of money,” he said. “And that’s what it’s kind of looking like now.”

Each month, Gould sells 1,400 piglets to a Midwestern farmer. Those piglets are then raised and sold to a meat packing plant. But with plants in St. Charles and other places closing, he wonders how long that arrangement will last.

“The whole pork production system is starting to back up,” Gould said. “And that’s a major problem. You can store grain for a while. But you can’t store pork. No farms are set up to have extra animals around.” 

“I’m worried about the day when the gentlemen who buys our piglets calls me and said we can’t take your pigs,” he adds. “We have no place to put them. That’s what worries me. And that’s what very well could happen.” 

Gould has five months of sows bred, a production line he can’t stop. He said he doesn’t want to think about his options yet. But acknowledges it could mean euthanizing thousands of pigs.

“It’s a potential train wreck coming,” he said. “Depending on how this thing pans out. Who knows? They could open those plants up next week and work through that backlog. But it has the potential to get ugly.” 

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