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Lowly Pig Seen a Contributor to Growth of Civilization

May 14, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Consider the pig, a noble animal that has rooted its way across wide stretches of Europe and North America to help tame the wilderness and make it easier for the human species.

For example, says an Agriculture Department economist, some historians and agricultural writers have suggested the pig aided in the advancement of civilization.

″Hogs are credited with clearing land on the outskirts of towns in Europe and with providing increased incentive to bring Great Plains land into corn production to feed increased hog numbers in the 1800s,″ writes Felix Spinelli of the department’s Economic Research Service.

Farmers discovered early on that it was good to have some pigs around.

Chief among the domestic pig’s attributes is its ability to survive on a varied diet of vegetable or animal origin.

″This ability is due to the increased length of the domestic pig’s large intestines,″ Spinelli said. ″A cat’s intestines are four times its body length; a wild boar, nine times its body length; and the domestic pig, 14 times its body length.″

The longer food is being digested, he said, the more nutrients can be absorbed.

″Other positive characteristics include the domestic pig’s ability to produce large numbers of offspring, the pig’s ability to grow fast, its early value as a source of lard for cooking and soap, and its value as a source of meat,″ Spinelli said.

Today, hog farmers turn out pork throughout the year, a highly efficient industry that is concentrated on a declining number of specialized, larger units. Fewer than 100,000 operations account for 94 percent of the nation’s pork. In the mid-1950s, there were 2.4 million hog producers in the United States.

A century or two ago, the life cycle of the domestic pig revolved around one farrowing in the spring, growth in the summer, fattening during harvest, and slaughter and processing in the fall and winter.

Spinelli said it wasn’t until artificial refrigeration became available in the 1870s that pork production became independent of the seasons. The refrigerated rail car made it possible to ship pork at any time.

The big pork countries could trace their beginnings to at least one of the pig’s ″positive characteristics,″ Spinelli said.

″For example, hog production was fostered in the world’s three corn belts - the U.S. Corn Belt, the La Plata region of South America, and the Danube basin of southeastern Europe - because of cheap feed grains,″ he said.

Also, leaner bacon-type hogs were developed in Canada and Scandinavian countries where the animals could convert small grains and dairy byproducts into pork.

In Germany and Poland, pork, lard and potatoes became dietary mainstays. And in China and many Latin American countries hogs were fattened on garbage from the kitchen and refuse from gardens and fields.

For North American consumers, pork was the most important meat staple until the 1920s, Spinelli said. But by the 1950s, as more people left farms and moved to cities, pork consumption remained about the same while beef increased as per capita income grew.

Pork is still second to beef in the U.S. per capita appetite, but poultry consumption now outweighs each of them, according to department figures.

In 1991, per capita beef consumption is projected at 68 pounds, retail weight, pork at 50 pounds, and total poultry at 95.4 pounds.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Preliminary signup figures by the Agriculture Department show that farmers are taking about 8.5 percent more land from production in 1991 than they did last year under government acreage programs.

Under this year’s commodity programs, farmers will idle more than 28.2 million acres, compared with 26 million acres taken from production under the 1990 programs, the USDA report showed Monday.

Most of the land idled is wheat and feed grains acreage. Wheat farmers more than doubled their set-aside from last year, while corn producers reduced theirs.

To be eligible for federal price support and related benefits, farmers are required to take a percentage of their base acres from crop production and put the land in conservation uses that help protect the soil.

The idled acres signed up for 1991 included: corn, 7.2 million acres, down from 10.1 million in 1990; sorghum, 2.3 million, down from 3.1 million; barley, 1.9 million, up from 0.8 million; oats, 0.5 million, up from 0.3 million; wheat, 14.9 million, up from 7 million; upland cotton, 0.9 million, down from 1.9 million; and rice, 0.6 million, down from 1.1 million.

Farmers were reported to have enrolled 167.5 million acres of cropland in the 1991 programs, which represented 78.4 percent of the national base 213.7 million acres of feed grains, wheat, cotton and rice. The idled acres are part of the 167.5 million acres enrolled.

Last year’s gross enrollment was 168.8 million acres, or 78 percent of the 1990 acreage base of 216.6 million acres.

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