Extreme cold forces shutdowns at U.S. pork plants, grain elevators

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hog slaughterhouses and grain elevators were shut down in the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday as the coldest temperatures in years gripped the region.

FILE PHOTO: Frozen Lake Michigan is pictured in St. Joseph, Michigan, U.S. January, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Joshua Nowicki via REUTERS

Temperatures in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged to as low minus 42 Fahrenheit (minus 41 Celsius), making parts of the Midwest colder than the South Pole.

Tyson Foods Inc canceled two shifts at a pork plant in Waterloo, Iowa, while Hormel Foods Corp halted the hog slaughter at its processor in Austin, Minnesota, according to three people familiar with the operations.

A Hormel spokesman said the company that processes pigs for the company in Minnesota, Quality Pork Processors Inc, was not operating on Wednesday and would start late on Thursday. Tyson did not respond to a request for comment.

With fewer packers slaughtering, there was less demand for hogs, contributing to lower prices in recent days in U.S. cash hog markets. The CME Group’s index of the U.S. cash hog market was trading at a roughly two-week low of 57.89 cents per pound.

The so-called polar vortex pushed a mass of cold air into much of the Midwest agriculture belt, with temperatures expected to plunge in some areas as low as minus 40 degrees, the point at which Fahrenheit and Celsius converge.

That forced farmers to hunker down and give extra rations to their animals.

The two pork plants each had capacity to kill about 20,000 hogs per day, according to industry estimates. More closures were likely on Thursday as meat packers sought to protect workers and limit potential weather-related damages to trucks and other equipment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the U.S. hog slaughter on Wednesday at 261,000, compared with 466,000 hogs a week ago and 464,000 hogs on the same day in 2018.

Grain elevators and processors also shut down or reduced operations. An Archer Daniels Midland Co elevator in Toledo, Ohio, was closed on Wednesday and will remain closed on Thursday due to the extreme cold, according to the facility’s website. ADM declined further comment.

Cargill Inc spokeswoman April Nelson said the company closed all of its grain plants in the Midwest.

Mechanical issues earlier prevented two Iowa soybean processors operated by Cargill from receiving bean deliveries in Iowa Falls and Cedar Rapids, according to an email seen by Reuters.

“Please do not send trucks until you hear from us. Sorry for the inconvenience,” a notice from Cargill said.

Reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub, Julie Ingerwersen and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; editing by Bill Berkrot and Lisa Shumaker