Hog farmers 'trying to survive' soaring corn pricesby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
More than 200 farmers met in Mankato Tuesday to discuss the financial pain that high grain prices are inflicting on livestock producers.
Mankato, Minn. — Most of the attention at the meeting was on hog producers. They've been losing money on most of the animals they've sold since last fall.
Several speakers called on the federal government to change its ethanol policies to help bring corn prices back down and save hog farms.
Corn prices rose another 15 cents a bushel in the hours before the hog farmers settled into their seats at a hotel meeting room in Mankato. Corn prices are approaching $6 a bushel at Minnesota grain elevators, a level farmers have never seen before.
Soaring corn prices are pulling the cost of feed up with them. As a result, pork producers are losing as much as $30 per hog.
Hog farmer Greg Strobel told the group all they can do is hang on.
"The key is trying to survive," said Strobel. "And this is what our goal should be. Obviously we're in tough times right now."
This meeting was a symptom of those tough times. It's rare for farmers to spontaneously organized to vent about their economic situation.
This meeting was the first of its kind in Minnesota since corn prices started rising. It demonstrates how much the high prices have hurt some farmers. Much of the reason for higher corn costs is the nation's ethanol demand.
Production of the corn-based fuel has climbed so rapidly that it's reduced corn stockpiles significantly, driving up prices.
Hog farmer Bob Taubert told the crowd the federal government should review its subsidies for renewable fuels like ethanol -- and the mandates requiring people to use them.
"We've gone, I think, too far," said Taubert. "The government should let the free market decide if our food should be used for fuel or food. If it should be used for fuel, and the public wants fuel more than they want food, the market will decide."
Another speaker said that at least one member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, is calling for a review of the nation's renewable energy policy. McGovern says Congress made a mistake in supporting fuels made from grain.
In another development, President Bush approved $200 million in food aid to Africa and other locations, where high grain prices are helping to fuel a global food crisis.
The farmers at the Mankato meeting also heard from a representative of hog producers in Canada. He told them the Canadian government is paying farmers to slaughter breeding pigs to reduce herd sizes, and prevent a complete collapse of the Canadian hog industry.
No one expects things to get that bad in the U.S., but the Minnesota hog producers also aren't certain when their economic situation will turn around.
- Morning Edition, 04/16/2008, 6:55 a.m.