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With meat packers closed, public taking on-farm buys directly to local butchers

Ohio Correspondent

VAN WERT, Ohio — A Van Wert County hog farm is turning to direct sales. Normally, Brennco, Inc., would ship hogs to Tyson Foods in Logansport, Ind., and Indiana Packers Corporation (IPC) in Delphi, Ind.
When those plants (and others) closed due to COVID-19 employee illnesses, the farm decided to hold on-farm sales every Saturday until the pigs are gone. Those hogs were selling for $140 apiece.
“We normally sell hogs to Tyson and IPC,” said Kenton Brenneman, a Brennco representative. “We have a massive backlog of pigs that can’t be moved and we need new barn space for the piglets that will be born the next few weeks. If we don’t move these pigs quickly, we will be forced to euthanize thousands of hogs.
“We tell people if they are able to butcher a hog, or knows someone who can and want pork well below wholesale prices this is for you.”
And that’s exactly what the public is doing, making on-farm purchases then finding the butcher shop that will take the next steps.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the producer would sell to the meat packer, who then sold the meat to major food chains. Finally, the buyer makes the meat purchase.
In many cases these days, the meat packer and major food chains are out of the loop, as producers are selling to the public, which is taking their from-the-farm purchases to local butcher shops.
 Many in Indiana and Ohio are purchasing animals directly from the farm and having them butchered. At Knightstown Meats & Catering, owner Dan Titus is as busy as he ever has been. The COVID-19 dilemma has pushed his business through the roof as people are flocking to his business for butchering needs.
“When it comes to butchering livestock, we’ve filled up our schedule the rest of this year and most of next year already,” Titus said. “We’re used to having a schedule of butchering a year in advance, but not two years. This a huge uptick in business. And it’s all because the farmers cannot get them to any meat packers. They’ve been closed because their employees are sick.”
 The bottom line is people are bypassing the grocery store knowing there is a meat shortage. Many are heading to farms, then to the nearest butcher shop.
Alan Ahrman, a beef farmer from Grants Lick, Ky., raises cattle and sells sides of beef directly to the public at $2.90 per pound, or about $2,000 per cow. He raises 20 cows a year for sale to consumers.
“With grocery stores running short on meat due to the economic shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve seen an uptick in demand,” Ahrman said. “Not a groundswell, but there is an interest out there.”
Jerry Binkley operates two small butcher shops near Mansfield, Ohio. Due to such an increase in business, he’s had to schedule the butchering of meat eight months in advance. He sees no slowing down in business in the near future.
“Until this coronavirus problem wanes a bit I see no slowing in this trend,” says Binkley, who runs the two shops with his two older brothers.
Euthanizing animals is an option for many livestock farmers, and many have already resorted to that type of solution to their over-abundance of animals on the farm. 
“They’re cringing,” said Lyda Garcia, an assistant professor of meat science at Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “It really hurts to have to do that.”
 In the meat industry, the pandemic has led to a logjam. Ohio, for instance, has about 400 smaller meat and poultry processing plants, but most have a backlog of orders. About 25 percent of Ohio’s pigs are processed out of state, and trying to find an Ohio meat process to take them to is challenging.
 “Farmers can’t easily donate their livestock to a food bank because it has to be taken to a meat processor, and the processors are backed up with orders for the next six months to a year,” Garcia said. “The famers have plenty of animals, but nowhere to take them.”