WORTHINGTON — The hog carcass composting site operating since early May in response to the temporary closure of Worthington’s JBS pork processing facility will be shuttered July 1, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

Michael Crusan, communications director for the BAH, said Thursday that 9,120 carcasses had been delivered to the rural Round Lake site in Nobles County since it opened May 2. Aside from the hogs delivered to the site by JBS, which were not traced to producers, Crusan said hog producers from Nobles and Brown counties used the composting site.

“The majority of that was before the past two weeks,” Crusan shared. “It’s been really slow the past couple of weeks.”

In fact, there hasn’t been a delivery to the site since June 2. That’s why the state has made the decision to close the operation July 1. At this time, a second composting site in LeSueur County will remain open, though Crusan said deliveries have also slowed there.

The slowdown can be attributed to a multitude of factors. For starters, JBS is now processing roughly 19,580 hogs per day — 89% of its 22,000-head-per-day capacity pre-COVID-19, according to JBS Communications Director Cameron Bruett. Due to a rise in positive cases of the novel coronavirus among employees, the plant temporarily closed the week of April 20; it resumed operations May 6 at reduced capacity.

Other factors are that some hog producers are working directly with rendering companies to arrange on-farm pick-up of euthanized animals, or have opted to compost the animals on their own farms — both acceptable by BAH without notification. As a result, Crusan said there is no way of knowing how many hogs were euthanized on farms because they couldn’t get them scheduled for processing at an area plant.

Still, with the number delivered to the Nobles County compost site, Crusan said it sets a benchmark for the state agency if something were to happen again that would require depopulation of large amounts of animals.

While some water flow issues caused challenges with the rural Round Lake site — poor drainage made it difficult for heavy machinery to maneuver following rain events — Crusan said the process seemed to work well. All loads had to be pre-scheduled with BAH prior to delivery of euthanized hogs, and Crusan didn’t know if the sites had to work longer hours in order to fit in deliveries during the height of the event.

“In the past couple of weeks, they rearranged the piles and tidied things up to make sure there weren’t any issues with flies or odors or anything like that,” Crusan said.

EQIP program provides aid to farmers

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with hog producers to provide some federal reimbursement for the financial losses they’ve incurred due to euthanizing hogs.

Through the program, farmers applied to the Emergency Animal Mortality Management practice. At this time, NRCS is not taking any new applications, according to Cheryl Heard, NRCS District Conservationist for Nobles, Murray, Pipestone and Rock counties. The deadline for the last (third batch) of applications was June 12.

“We haven’t assessed or ranked those,” she said. It isn’t known if there will be a fourth round of applications.

The program offered payment up to $25,000 per batching period to hog producers who had to euthanize and dispose of animals. To qualify for payment, producers had to complete an application and have an approved early start waiver filed with the NRCS local office prior to disposal of animal carcasses. Since financial assistance was limited, not all applications will be funded.

The payment rate to producers varied by the option they used for disposal of carcasses. The carcass burial payment rate is $74.28 per animal unit (1,000 pounds); $111.53 for disposal other than burial per animal unit; $219.88 for incineration per animal unit; or 5 cents per pound for disposal at a landfill or through a rendering plant.