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US pork sector calls for government action to avoid impending labour shortage

The National Pork Producers Council is urging government to take action to help to prevent an escalating labour shortage resulting from initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from becoming a crisis.

19 March 2020, at 12:02pm

The US pork sector, which operates year-round, uses the H-2A visa programme for specialised work but is constrained by its seasonal limitation. Hog farmers also rely on the TN visa programme which taps labour from Mexico, so the US State Department's suspension of visa processing in Mexico threatens to worsen the labour shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig Andersen, a pig farmer from Centerville, South Dakota and a member of the NPPC Board of Directors, says at a time when the processing plants are already working with less than full shifts, they can't afford any additional hiccups.

"For example, a bunch of the schools have closed in some of the states," says Andersen, in an interview with Farmscape. "We're on our first week of school closing and now the Governor had requested that we have another week of school closing.

"For child care we're starting to lose some workers to stay home and take care of the kids and things like that.

"If we start losing some there, if some start getting sick and they need to stay home for the two weeks, we need to have somebody that we can backfill into the labour supply, especially on the packing plant end.

"The farm situation isn't maybe quite as bad. Trucking is also another place where we don't need to lose any workers and lose any truck drivers.

"Timing is crucial. Most of these pig flows are working on such a tight schedule any more, you might have only a two or three day turn around in some of the flow.

"If we have very much of a hiccup that snowballs through the entire chain."

Andersen says the pork sector is going to need to work through a lot of different challenges and farmers don't have the opportunity to teleconference or telecommute, they have to be out there to keep things rolling as best they can.

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