The Agriculture Department should make additional purchases of pork using the Section 32 program to help provide stability to the pork industry, suffering from lost markets due to the recent outbreak of the H1N1 influenza A virus, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).

AFBF President Bob Stallman requested the Section 32 aid for pork in a letter sent Thursday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Low prices for both pork and live hogs have caused financial distress for well over a year for many of our producers,” Stallman says. “The situation has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus and the referencing of the virus as ‘swine flu.’ The banning of pork imports by various countries has added to the problem.”

The pork purchases would add market stability for the pork industry and provide a healthy protein source for users of the nation’s Section 32 nutrition programs. Section 32 is a USDA program in place since 1935, which sets a permanent appropriation equal to 30% of annual U.S. customs receipts to support the farm sector. Most funds are directed to child nutrition programs.

“The pork industry is going through a very difficult time right now,” Stallman says. “A number of hog producers are looking at red ink and some will be forced to go out of business. In fact, Purdue University Extension Economist Chris Hurt has estimated between one-quarter and one-third of hog producers will have to reassess their futures in the business.”

An AFBF economic analysis of USDA Agricultural Marketing Service data indicates that a producer’s operating loss has mushroomed from an average of $17.17/head to $31.94/head since the outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

University of Missouri Extension economist Ron Plain projects losses of $400 million to the pork industry over the next four months due to the H1N1 situation.