North Central Research Extension Center


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A Pork Story


Once upon a time farmers throughout the county raised hogs on their farms in combination with a variety of crops and other livestock. Pigs were marketed locally, through auctions, and buying stations to processors and pork was common in the meals of most.

Then the demand for pork began to fall out of concern for fat and cholesterol in the diet and it’s effects on health. Loss of consumer demand and declining real prices to producers in combination with other economic forces in agricultural, put pig production into a phenomenal transition. Rapid changes in genetic improvement, production technology, industry structure, and product development and marketing occurred. Demand for park stabilized and improved with lower fat learner pork, more convenient products, competitive cost and added industry promotion. Additionally, new market opportunities developed to export pork to other countries and the industry once again grew.

Through this transition a much different more allinged and consolidated industry developed. Large integrated companies replaced many independent producers raising hogs as a diversification on farms. Contract production and packer agreement selling become common. Like other industries, today hog production is being done by far less people and firms than in the past. They are on average much larger operations and highly specialized in the breeding and farrowing of piglets or growing and finishing of feeders.

Large specialized farms typically utilize indoor production confinement systems; including climate control, automation for feeding, and flush type handling of waste as a liquid. Employees are hired to manage and operate the enterprise. Manure is held in pits and complying ponds, until the nutrients can be recycled for crop production by applying to land. While most of the pork in the market is produced by such systems, pigs continue to be raised under a variety of methods and alternatives including low input facilities and outdoor lots often for local and niche markets.

Accompanying these changes has been marked advances in swine productivity and efficiency as measured by litter size, litters per year, feed conversion, days to market, and percent lean yields contributing to reduced cost to consumers. There are also new and emerging issues relating to animal health, disease, and antibiotic use; ethical care, housing, and welfare; environmental regulation and compliance; employee recruitment, training, and retention; community relations and support; and the business structures to access capital, align to markets, and obtain financing. A bottom line to the story is though such dramatic industry transition, consumers today have available high quality pork in my alternatives and options at very good value.

Where do opportunities in North Dakota fit in this big picture story? There are currently few North Dakota farmers producing hogs and the states annual production is low leaving the state as a very sparsely populated, low hog density region, with considerable grain production. Currently there are some but few large specialized production units, mostly sow farms for producing piglets to ship to out of state feeders. Our isolation provides opportunities for making a high health status for breeding farms producing seedstock and feeder stock for other operations. We also have a pork processor in state and a grower marketing alliance supplying them with hogs. The alliance offers benefits to small and moderate producers in feeder pig procurement, market access, negotiated premiums, risk management and production/business consultation. There is room for additional participation and opportunity for operations with labor and interest for an added hog feeding operation.

Pigs and livestock development can be associated with community growth and stability. Farm program support has made specialized grain production a lower risk higher net strategy than livestock diversification. This works for individuals but not for communities because with machinery technology specialized grain farming relates to few but large operations. A 2004 Iowa study equated a 6000 hour labor resource of a family farm that specialized in corn – soy farming could operate about 2,400 acres. That same family if they diversified with farrow to finish utilizing grain with hogs could farrow about 200 sows and farm 550 acres. Using simulation prices and variability from 1988 – 2002, the grain farm netted about $23,000 more per year than the grain and hog producer with farm program support. Excluding government payments puts the diversified farm ahead by $60,000. Their study illustrates the fact that with intensive livestock we can have several times as many people involved in agriculture in a given area.

There are many obstacles to growing pork production. The capital investment is large; financing requires strong equity and market protection for new entrants. It is highly competitive requiring one to play to a comparative advantage as: cost of production, valve added, or startup investment. Additionally, community acceptance and support has a significant impact. It is interesting to think what if; but time will tell the story of pork production in North Dakota, what changes occurred what opportunities were realized.

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