“I keep telling people that it’s been like a roller coaster that goes up and down, but even that doesn’t describe it,” said Phil Borgic, owner of Borgic Farms in Raymond, about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
He said in reality it was more like a certain roller coaster at Busch Gardens that his niece took him on a few years ago where he went up and then plunged down head first.
“That’s the best analogy I can think of to describe the past 60 to 90 days,” he said. “We’ve been thrown one curveball after another in our industry, but so far we’ve avoided the fastball between the eyes.”
As news of the pandemic began to unfold in March, Phil and his wife, Karen, met with their staff on March 16.
“We told them we had no idea what was coming, but that it wasn’t going to be good,” Borgic said. “We told them that we had to be smart, be focused and use our relationships to weather the storm.”
The Borgics have 70 employees at two sow farms, as well as 40 to 50 local families who help raise pigs from weaning to market. Keeping their employees safe and healthy has been the number one priority for the Borgics throughout this time of uncertainty.
To help reduce the risk, they enforced much tighter cleaning processes in the common areas at the sow farms and asked employees to take their temperatures before coming to work. They also cut the office staff in half, while some staff members worked from home for about five or six weeks.
“The staff at our sow farms has made some very good decisions,” Borgic said. “We have not had one positive case at either of our sow farms.”
In addition to concerns for the safety of their staff, the pandemic also presented a challenge in getting pigs to market, as two of the four processing plants they deliver pigs to closed for a time.
Borgic said they ship 8,000 pigs a week to processing plants or they begin to back up in their barns.
“We have an amazing food system in the United States,” Borgic said. “When we take pigs to any of the four plants, you will find it on your grocery store shelves 72 to 96 hours later.”
One week during the pandemic, 45 percent of pork processing plants were shut down or reduced, causing a major back-up of pigs. Borgic said they remained aggressive in finding alternative markets, even shipping to other states like Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Maine, New York and Wisconsin.
“We shipped them all over kingdom come, so we wouldn’t have to discuss whether or not to euthanize them,” Borgic said.
He added that now, two months after the start of the pandemic, things are beginning to look a little more like normal. Pork processing plants are back up to 88 percent capacity, and last week marked the first official week the Pork Producers harvested the number of pigs they needed for that week.
“It’s still not great, but we stayed even,” Borgic said. “During the summer, there are less numbers, which will give us some opportunity to catch up with the pigs that are behind.”
He gave much of the credit for their success throughout the pandemic to their staff and the families that raise pigs for them, as well as his wife, Karen.
“Our staff has just been phenomenal,” he said. “Every single one of them has stepped up and done everything we asked them to do. From loading pigs in the middle of the night to getting the right pigs on the trailer, they have just been fantastic. They’ve done whatever they can to keep the lights on.”