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N.C. farmers experiencing months-long waits at food processing plants

Updated: Apr. 28, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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MARSHVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - Farmers say there are now more people looking to have animals processed, and less processing plants that are still open to do all that work.

“We like being the small town guy, being the small farm,” Scott Baucom at Fence Row Farms says. “We enjoy that, we love our animals, we’re really close to nature by being out here every day. But at the same time, don’t fool yourself, we can’t provide everything.”

Farmers like Baucom are mainly concerned about large farms. He learned that Tyson Foods believes the food supply chain is breaking.

“That’s alarming, because that’s a big entity,” he says. “That’s a big integrator with the poultry and the beef industry.”

Across the country, food processing plants are closing because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Tyson Foods chairman John H. Tyson put out an ad in papers like the New York Times saying that “millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain” and “there will be a limited supply of products available in grocery stores.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers say about a quarter of the country's pork production and 10% of its beef output has now been shuttered.

North Carolina's secretary of public health says there is testing being done on site for these plants.

“That is a collaboration between our local public health department and hospital systems, just to make sure they are supported, because these businesses are so important to our food chain,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

In Union County, Baucom says people are trying to bring more animals to fewer available plants.

“That’s probably the first thing [some farmers] thought when this came out, ‘There could be a shortage, so I want to make sure I’ve got supply on hand for myself,’” he says. “So, a lot of people that maybe put in one or two animals a year to get processed, now they’re putting in more, and that’s sort of choked down the system, because you can’t process but so many in a day’s time.”

He is being careful about how much he is sending at once.

“The next animal I can send in will be on June 8,” he says. “So, it’s going to be nearly two months before I get any more beef from the processor. So, I’ve got to keep that in mind too, I don’t want to sell out everything I’ve got now.”

The U.S. Labor Department says there are new guidelines for workers at processing plants still open, including screenings, temperature checks, face coverings, and staying six feet apart.

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