In the Spotlight

News & Features
Butchers Benefit from Low Pork Prices
By Kathryn Herzog
December 28, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio

Business at meat markets and butcher shops across the state is booming this holiday season. With pork prices as low as they've been in more than twenty five years, sale of pork is on the rise. In one small-town butcher shop, increased business is making for some long days.

A LINE OF CUSTOMERS TRAILS out the door of Dan and Mary Tessmer's Meat Market in Richmond, Minnesota. The Tessmers say they're selling pork for the cheapest price since they began slaughtering hogs in 1983.

Mary Tessmer does some of the meat cutting and runs the counter. She says while business is good these days, she's heard little feedback from customers about the low prices.

Mary Tessmer: They'll say, "We hear that pork is cheap," and some of them think it's a shame that the farmer isn't getting any more money than that for a whole hog. But it's not a lot - I mean it's not everyone that comes in.

Herzog (reporter): Are people surprised at the low price you can charge?

Mary Tessmer: No, I don't think that most people pay close attention to meat-per-pound. They may look at a whole hog and say, "That's pretty cheap" if they order a whole hog for it. But I don't think they pay close attention to price-per-pound, from what I see.
The Tessmer's business is unique: they see both sides of the scale. Not only do they sell meat over the counter, they also raise their own cattle and hogs for slaughter. Dan does his own slaughtering and provides his services to neighboring farmers.
Dan Tessmer: I usually go right out to their place and kill 'em. Go right out and shoot and 'em and skin 'em and gut 'em out right at the farm. As many as they can get rid of and as many as they get in a locker - as many as we have room for.
Normally, Dan is booked six weeks in advance, but this year he says he's never been so busy.
Dan Tessmer: We're into March and April as far as butchering cattle and hogs; we're maybe about 40 to 50 hogs behind. Sometimes, when pig prices are high, we're usually only a couple a pigs behind. But because prices are so low, everyone wants 'em butchered.
An oversupply of hogs has flooded the market causing prices to plummet, even though sales of pork have risen seven percent over the past year. The next few weeks could prove critical for many farmers who are just hanging onto their business. Slaughtering more animals than normal may be playing a role, as farmers seek to reduce the number of hogs they need to feed.
Dan Tessmer: People are trying to get rid of as many pigs as they can through friends and relatives, 'cause they can maybe get a little bit more out of a relative than a packer, so they're trying to get pigs butchered. A guy can only do so much in a day.
The low prices are keeping Dan busy these days - driving from farm to farm, tending his own animals, and running the store. But he says it's not just the butchers who are busy - everyone involved in the slaughter of hogs is overwhelmed with work.
Dan Tessmer: The gut-truck driver, they pick up all the stuff we don't keep: the offal. That's all the stuff that you don't usually eat, like all the inside parts and the skin, all the fat and bones. He said every place they go is way behind. So we're not the only ones. Everybody else is too.
As long as pork prices remain low, sales of pork will remain strong. While some segments of the industry are benefiting from this boom, it's not clear at this point how many hog farmers will survive.