Government numbers continue to confirm the trend of consolidation in the pork industry. In 2001 the number of U.S. operations producing hogs fell by more than 5,000 – about 6 percent. That's actually the smallest decline in 10 years. Since 1975 the number of hog operations has decline by 88%, falling at an average of 8 percent annually.
Roughly the same number of hogs are produced every year, but the ownership of those hogs has become more concentrated. And now the consolidation is beginning to be part of another trend – migration.
Anti-corporate farming laws and stricter environmental standards have encouraged hog production that evolved in grain producing states to move elsewhere.
For instance, Nebraska now raises roughly 36 percent fewer hogs than in 1991. The number of farms with hogs has also dwindled from more than 12 thousand to less than four thousand. Meanwhile, nationwide pork production has remained constant.
Hogs have often moved to states where pork traditionally has NOT been raised, such as Utah and Oklahoma. Both states have seen exponential growth, largely due to giant corporate owned operations. Since Seaboard Farms opened a packing facility in Guymon, Oklahoma, the number of hogs in the state jumped from roughly 590 thousand in 1995 to more than 2 million last year. In contrast, the number of Oklahoma pork producers dropped by more than 20 percent.
Also contributing to the hog migration is cheap grain. Burdensome supplies make shipping large quantities of grain long distances much more cost effective. The consistently low cost feed is largely due to government subsidy programs which encourage production for an already saturated marketplace.
One state that hasn't seen a hog exodus is Iowa. Lawmakers there are ramping up to debate new environmental restrictions for the pork industry. Influencing that debate will be a report released this week suggesting Iowa's water supply is being threatened by leaky waste lagoons.
Hydrologists with Iowa State University and the National Soil Tilth Lab found groundwater can come into contact with many Iowa lagoons. Adding to the problem is geology and proximity to field drainage wells. The researchers concluded North-Central Iowa with its leaky soil and fractured rock should NOT be allowed to have animal waste lagoons. And the study recommends lagoons placed elsewhere should take into account landscape, soils, hydrology, flood plains and water proximity.