<&firstgraph>Compart Family Farms recently sold a 155-pound pig for $3.10.
<&firstgraph>That’s a good deal for the buyer, in case you’re wondering. Dean Compart, who owns the family business, north of Nicollet, with his two brothers, Jim and Chris, his son and one nephew, said that a pig that size would usually go for $50 to $60. The $3.10 sale is hardly an outlier at the moment, though. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting life in countless ways, including slowing and shutting down processing plants, livestock producers are among the hardest hit.
<&firstgraph>“This has happened in the beef industry as well. It’s impacting the turkey business, the chicken business,” Compart said. “Any place you have processing and you have people working close together, you start to have this disease impacting that.”
<&firstgraph>The Compart Family Farms operation is in possession of some 900,000 sows at any given time across a number of locations. It was started by the Compart brothers’ parents, Richard and Bonita, as a 4-H project in 1949. In addition to the breeding stock pigs, the production business has access to about 3,250 sows for market purposes that go into the family pork program, which sells higher quality pork directly to restaurants and retail stores across the country.
<&firstgraph>Dean Compart is also a seven-year member and current chair of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. He is seeing a devastating affect on the livestock market, especially for producers.
<&firstgraph>“As the processing plants began to experience COVID-19, it reduced the number of workers they had coming to the plants, which began to slow them down and then it got to a point where the plants completely shut down. That’s where these pigs produced across the country go to be processed,” Compart said. “Processing reduced to 85 to 75 to 50 percent and then some plants closed, so we started to accumulate and get backed up on pigs.”
<&firstgraph>It won’t make all the difference, but Nicollet County, like several counties before it, recently passed a resolution to allow for increases in livestock density at feedlot facilities in the county. The ordinance, which Compart said will “definitely help,” allows livestock producers to stock facilities with more animals until Sept. 1 of this year, buying them time to sell their animals to processing and market. The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, which the Property Services Department brought forward.
<&firstgraph>“It’s another opportunity for producers to evaluate what to do with their animals when it’s time to send to market, rather than euthanizing,” Property Services Director Mary Landkamer said. “It allows them to keep their animals on site longer, which of course creates more units. It’s recognizing that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our food chain and allows some flexibility for our producers.”
<&firstgraph>The impact of the pandemic on livestock producers has been swift and significant.
<&firstgraph>“It drives the market place down, because we have way more production than the ability to process,” Compart said. “So supply is high and the demand to get them off to market is slowed. We have pigs right now that there is basically no market for.”
<&firstgraph>He said boars have recently been sold at about 8 cents per pound, and it’s been that way for a month. Prices for sows have similarly deflated. For Compart Family Farms premium pork, the market dropped by 90% in one week at the beginning of the pandemic’s impact. The market increased back to around 75% of the usual after a few weeks, but it’s back down to 25%, as premium pork processor struggles with staffing.
<&firstgraph>The big problem is the big pigs.
<&firstgraph>There is a certain weight for swine that is ideal for processing plants, and if the sows grow too large, they are no longer salable. With processing plants unable to take on the same amount of product as usual, the producers aren’t able to rid of all of their pigs at the desired weight. They’re left with an excess of overweight pigs.
<&firstgraph>“There have been thousands and thousands of pigs euthanized and just rendered and run through grinders and composted,” said Compart. “That’s how we’re dealing with that issue. You have to move these bigger pigs out of the buildings to make room for the little pigs.”
<&firstgraph>Producers can help themselves by food rationing and limiting the growth of the animals, as Nicollet County’s Landkamer noted, but that’s not enough to offset the market loss. The opportunity to increase stock at locations in the county helps as a temporary solution, according to Compart.
<&firstgraph>“This is helpful, yes. No question,” he said. “It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s in the millions in some places.”
<&firstgraph>That might make the difference for some producers when it comes to the potential for closure, which Compart believes will be the case for many.
Industry leaders estimate that around 70-74% of processing capacity has come back online at this point. That’s not enough for producers to make up their bottom line, and their is no guarantee of an immediate return to normalcy.
<&firstgraph>“We need to be at 100%, but we will probably not get there soon, because with the practices in place to separate workers, 80-85% will be the capacity,” Compart said. “So this problem will continue into summer and fall.”
<&firstgraph>Landkamer said the county got plenty of feedback from producers that the resolution to increase livestock density will be helpful. But ultimately a stop-gap in what can only be considered a crisis for producers.
<&firstgraph>“There are limited resources available to them, so this is just an opportunity to avoid euthanization of a herd,” Landkamer said.
<&firstgraph>For now, producers are just hoping that processors can return to full capacity. Until then, all solutions are welcome.
<&firstgraph>“You won’t be able to sustain for any length of time,” Compart said of the current conditions. “You just hope that there is demand out there. There are lots of reports of meat counters being low, so we’re living with that meat shortage right now. The problem is that, even with these plants ramping up, we cannot deal with these big pigs, because they’re not marketed when we want them to be.”
As Minnesotans continue to wait for an update from the governor’s office and health official related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, farmers markets are on the list of events trying to stay ahead of the unknown.
The St. Peter Farmers Market opening is scheduled for June 6, and the market’s plans haven’t been disrupted too much by COVID-19. This year’s farmer’s market promises to have all the usual vendors plus a few more including beef seller from Stormy Creek Farms by New Ulm, a goat milk soap maker and a chocolatier from Sleepy Eye.
“It will look a little different this year, as is everything right now, but we are still going to have all the same vendors,” said St. Peter Farmer’s Market Manager Nicole Jensen. “We’re just going to be taking extra precautions, per our farmers market guidelines from the state level.”
The new precautions are meant to ensure the market isn’t a place the virus can easily be spread.
The St. Peter Farmers Market will open with signs reminding shoppers to keep six feet apart and a one-way loop of traffic. Rather than picking up what they want, customers will be asked to shop with their eyes and tell vendors what they want. Vendors themselves will come to the market wearing face masks and will utilize no-contact payment options, such as phone or electronic-based payment. Some vendors may even bring plexiglass barriers to limit contact with customers.
While a lot will be different, Jensen hopes that the sight of familiar faces at the market will help people feel more at home.
“We’re trying to make it as familiar as possible as far as what we’re selling and hopefully people will come down,” she said
The Le Sueur Farmers Market is also taking safety precautions for its planned market fest. While initially planning to open by May 13, the Le Sueur Farmers Market pushed back that opening to July 10 with a number of new rules.
Seniors, health care workers and people with underlying health conditions will be invited to shop at the market during the first half hour, which starts at 4 p.m. Vendor booths will feature hand sanitizer, be spaced farther apart, use table coverings and will not offer free samples, and many will have electronic payment options to allow customers prepay online.
Shopping will be a different experience, too, with shoppers encouraged to shop with their eyes. Eating at the Farmers Market will also not be allowed, and families are encouraged to send a “designated shopper” to the market.
One thing that will not be returning is live music and programming, like the Power of Produce. The Le Sueur Farmers Market has told customers that this year’s market will be a shopping experience rather than a social one.
The Owatonna Farmers Market, which was set to kickoff in May in Central Park, announced earlier that it would push back the start date to the first Saturday in June. John Meixner, owner of Little Professors Bookshop in downtown Owatonna and farmers market organizer, said that this decision gives everyone time make appropriate adjustments and prepare for a potentially different looking type of market.
“When we made the decision we really didn’t know what the situation was going to be like, but we thought it would be best to be safe than sorry and wait until June,” Meixner said. “If situations change drastically, we could always open up early.”
In Faribault, the farmers market starts in June, as scheduled, while the Medford market, now without an organizer, won’t open at all.
Owatonna’s Meixner said that they were lucky in that none of the vendors seemed upset or concerned with the decision to delay the opening, adding that the public will likely be more upset about not being able to spend their Saturday mornings at the market for another month.
“Whenever we open, I think it’s going to have a nice big draw,” Meixner said. “We don’t know if there will be any state restrictions moving forward — or city ones — but I’m not too worried about it because I do think most people are pretty socially conscious about what’s going on.”
Meixner said that this is the first time in the history of the downtown farmers market that it has been postponed, stating that even inclement weather there always seems to be a couple of vendors and a handful of shoppers who make their way to the park.
“If there’s a snowstorm and someone wants to come down and sell banana bread, that’s up to them,” he said. “Sometimes bad weather will mean not so many people will show up, but there are a few diehards here who will show up for anything.”
Diehards could be one way to describe the vendors and shoppers of the Faribault Winter Farmers Market, which held its last event as scheduled on April 11 at the Rice County Fairgrounds, but vendor Theresa Bentz of Get Bentz Farm said that she believes they simply did it right.
“Tiffany Tripp who does the winter market just really did a fantastic job,” said Bentz, who sells lamb meat, fiver products, and handcrafted soaps and lotions at both the Faribault Winter Market and the Riverwalk Market Fair in downtown Northfield. “Before we even arrived, she had taped out where every table would go to accommodate appropriate social distancing.”
Bentz said multiple hand washing stations were set up throughout the market, as well as signs that reminded visitors to both wash their hands and to not touch anything unless they intended to purchase it. She added that the distance between each vendor was roughly 12 feet, and that the vendors were asked to bring two tables to help distance themselves from the shoppers.
“It was really smooth. The people that came all kept their distance from each other and from the vendors, which was great because as a vendor you are putting yourself at risk trying to sell your products,” Bentz said, noting that every vendor wore a mask.
While the winter market normally brings out about 300-350 people, Bentz said there was probably only 150 people who attended that final Saturday, likely due to COVID-19. She believed that was OK, though, as everyone is still determining their level of comfort as they try to remain safe.
“I feel safe, and I’m not in the age range of people who are at higher risk of getting it, but I am definitely in that age range of people who can spread it,” Bentz said. “It is important to me to make sure customers who came that were elderly and at risk knew that steps were taken so that they wouldn’t be infected or possibly take something home with them.”
The summer farmers market in Faribault is scheduled to begin June 6, as planned. According to Bentz, Tripp has been working with the organizer of the summer market to help them navigate through COVID-19.
Not all farmers markets have survived the pandemic – including the Medford Farmers Market and The North Market that took place at Grace Baptist Church in Owatonna. Former organizer for both markets Jennifer Kath said that after deciding this winter to step away from the markets that she was unable to find anyone to take on that role.
“In hindsight, that was probably a good decision because I can’t even visualize what the market would look like,” Kath said. “There is so much social interaction between vendors and customers.”
Kath said that many of the larger farmers markets have been organizing pre-orders and pick-up only style markets, but that those markets are typically ones that have paid staff, such as the Rochester Farmers Market. She said she is uncertain, however, how the local residents would respond to that kind of setup.
For now, there will be no farmers market in Medford or at Grace Baptist Church until someone chooses to take over the organization. But as Meixner likes to point out, things continue to change day-by-day.
“We’re five weeks away yet, so a lot could change,” he said. “For the good or the bad.”to as it was.”
The coronavirus pandemic continues to make an impact on a local level, as Nicollet County Public Health confirmed Sunday that two more Nicollet County residents died from COVID-19, making four total.
While the Minnesota Department of Health had reported 37 confirmed cases (and only three deaths) in the county, as of Sunday, Nicollet County’s Health and Human Services Director, Cassandra Sassenberg said many cases had not yet been counted and will be added on soon. By Wednesday’s report, Nicollet County showed 44 confirmed cases.
“Nicollet County is experiencing a considerable increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Sassenberg said. “This week (May 10-16), we became aware of many new cases, and unfortunately lost two individuals to the virus. Our hearts go out to the family members of those who passed away. These losses serve as an additional reminder that we cannot forget the importance of doing our part to slow the virus.”
Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll continued to rise Wednesday, as the state reported 777 deaths since the pandemic began, up 29 from Tuesday. The number of Minnesotans currently hospitalized rose slightly to 550 while those needing intensive care slipped to 212.
Total cases since the outbreak started reached 17,670.
In south central Minnesota, the number of confirmed cases in Rice County has shot upward, at 295 as of Wednesday, including two deaths. Steele County is next with 116 confirmed and no deaths, while Blue Earth County has 98 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 36 confirmed and one death; Waseca County 22 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 38 confirmed and no deaths; Brown County 10 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 11 confirmed and no deaths.
Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the recent spike in cases in the area can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, officials said.
In Steele County, a business had a cluster of employees test positive for COVID-19, according to a recent release from Public Health.
As COVID-19 continues to spread in Minnesota, local Public Health officials are encouraging residents to do what they can to keep each other safe, especially those most vulnerable. The expiration of the stay-at-home Order on May 18 allows for additional movement outside our homes. However, Public Health encourage the following:
• Limit your movement in the community beyond essential needs.
• If socializing with other people, remember the importance of staying more than 6 feet away from them and in groups of less than 10.
• Wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). These help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
• Donate cloth face coverings to be distributed to local congregate living facilities and day care facilities. Just one of many area options, Nicollet County Health and Human Services has a donation bin located at 622 South Front Street in St. Peter.
• Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or sleeve, or a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands afterwards.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
• Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth – with unwashed hands.
• Stay home if you have cold- or flu-like symptoms for ten days after your illness onset or three days after your fever resolves without fever-reducing medicine and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
If you need assistance finding food, paying housing bills or other essential services, dial 2-1-1, 651-291-0211 or 1-800-543-7709 or Text ‘MNCOVID’ to 898211 and a certified community resource specialist from the United Way will help to locate available resources in your area. If you are in need of support or resources related to COVID-19, call 507-934-8550 to speak with a Nicollet County staff member.
Plan for restaurants, bars due Wednesday
Monday marked the first day retailers could reopen with limited capacity and group gatherings of 10 or fewer people, including at places of worship, were permitted once again.
Most retail businesses have been permitted to welcome customers back into stores with some capacity limits. But those that serve food and drinks have been restricted to takeout-only and haven’t been able to resume sit-down service.
Gov. Tim Walz has previously said June 1 is his goal to reopen those establishments as well as salons and barbershops, bowling alleys, theaters and other places of public accommodation.
On Tuesday morning Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the state on Wednesday would outline a phased reopening plan. He didn’t provide details, but in other states, that’s meant keeping restaurants from filling all their normal tables at the outset.
Bars and restaurant owners have become increasingly concerned that they’ll go under if they can’t reopen soon to dine-in customers.
On Monday, a central Minnesota bar owner vowed to defy the state and reopen immediately, but backed down when a judge approved Attorney General Keith Ellison’s restraining order.