Coronavirus pandemic creates unprecedented struggle for Ohio pig farmers

Heimerl Farms in Johnstown, Ohio
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"We've had an 'A,' 'B,' and 'C' plan. And I don't know if we have a 'D' plan. We've already went through exhaustion."

Johnstown pig farmer Jim Heimerl is looking at an uncertain future as the Coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on farms across Ohio.

The Ohio Farm Bureau says the field of agriculture has been in a down economy since 2012, but this pandemic is a new twist.

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"We have seen every commodity across the board lose value since the first COVID-19 case was discovered in China," said Ty Higgins, media director for the Ohio Farm Bureau. "A farmer actually told me last week, that he thought in 2019 that it couldn't get any worse. Unfortunately it has."

Most crop farming in Ohio has not started yet, so the Ohio Farm Bureau says farmers will have to wait to see how the pandemic affects their profits. However, livestock and poultry farmers are already seeing a massive drop in profits.

Heimerl says he's already out hundreds of dollars thanks to the pandemic.

"At one point for example, we were running around $150 per head of income, and that would be just to break even," said Heimerl. "Right now, what we're receiving at market today, is less than $100."

His story is shared by pig farmers across the country. Since American pork products are often exported to China, pork futures plummeted at the news of the first COVID-19 cases in China. In addition, several meat processing plants like Smithfield Foods closed their doors after they became hotspots for the virus.

For pig farmers, plant closures are especially devastating. While some livestock breeding can be easily stopped, it's not the same for pigs - leaving some pig farmers with one, heartbreaking option.

"The ultimate thing...we have to euthanize pigs. Which, I think is immoral," said Heimerl. "We can't euthanize pigs, we have to move pigs every day."

Despite this, farmers are still hopeful. A recent executive order from President Donald Trump will keep meat processing plants open, and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control will guide the plants towards more socially-distanced processes.

And, as both Higgins and Heimerl say - there's no one more optimistic than a farmer.

"We're all in this together, we're going to be positive," said Heimerl. "The farmer is the eternal optimist."

If you're wondering how to support Ohio farmers, Higgins says your best bet is to check Facebook groups. Many farmers have turned to social media to get rid of excess product to avoid wasting it.

In addition, there are several butchers and shops in Central Ohio that are providing packages of meat that are available for delivery or no-contact pickup.