The price of pork has been pushed up by a virus that has killed millions of baby pigs nationwide over the winter.
That loss, along with some increased production costs, are driving the cost of those favored bacon and chops up to all-time highs.
Fortunately, local pork producers have successfully protected their pigs from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, which originated in China.
"So far, we have been very blessed," said Tim Belstra, chairman of the board for Belstra Milling in DeMotte. "We have very stringent protocols," he said, noting there have been no instances of the disease on any of the Belstra pig farms.
Malcolm DeKryger, who helped launch Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farm and serves as Belstra's president, said, "Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea has been a tragic disease for our nation's baby pigs. To date, it is estimated the U.S. has lost over 5 percent of its baby pigs in the last year. The ironic thing is that the world is short on meat protein and pork is the most desired meat in the world. Demand is huge."
At Pig Adventure, DeKryger said the pigs are PED-free.
"The building design kept the potential virus out, and then we stepped up another level and sprayed off all incoming vehicles with disinfectant on the tire treads as an extra precaution," he said.
Belstra said the virus, which was first detected in Iowa last May, has prompted the development of roadside stations in which pig haulers can pull in for treatments. The building heats up the trailer and its occupants to kill the virus.
"There are four strains, I think," he said.
The sustained cold winter helped keep the virus active.
Now, prices are rising as companies look to summer, hot dogs and barbecues, Belstra said.
"It's economy 101. Supply is down, so prices are up," he said. Some speculators also have affected the pork market.
At Pig Adventure, DeKryger said the hard winter along increased production costs.
"Of course, the extra cost of gas for heating and electricity for heat lamps and such looks to be at least double. One area most people would not expect is the cost of labor. ... We needed to ask employees to spend the night in the farm in case of not being able to make it back in the morning. We had to pay them for a substantial amount of extra time," he said.
The U.S. is both a top producer and exporter of pork, but production could decline about 7 percent this year compared to last – the biggest drop in more than 30 years, according to a recent report from Rabobank, which focuses on the food, beverage and agribusiness industries.
A pound of bacon averaged $5.46 in February, 13 percent more than a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ham and chops are up, but not as much.
"I suspect that we have seen the peak in the prices that farmers receive for their pigs this year. It has been 20 to 25 percent higher than at any time in history," DeKryger said. "I can't say where the meat prices will go this year."
DeKryger noted there is a shortage of beef cattle due to the western drought. He said there is a shortage of poultry, too.
"On top of that, the world is hungry. ... We could be looking at high retail prices for at least this year, because there is no fast fix for missing pigs and cattle," DeKryer said.