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Small Hog Farmers Losing Out to Large Operations

April 5, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In less than 40 years, the nation’s small hog farmers have been rooted out by larger operators who are becoming bigger and more specialized than ever, an Agriculture Department economist says.

Fewer than 100,000 farms account for about 94 percent of the U.S. hog inventory, said Felix Spinelli of the department’s Economic Research Service. And fewer than 11,000 of those account for 42 percent.

The trend is not new, nor should it come as a surprise to those who have seen huge hog operations spring up over the years. But the statistics of change still are impressive.

In 1954, for example, the United States had about 2.4 million hog producers. One-fourth of these had only four hogs per farm. But those accounted for 4 percent of all hogs.

The largest producers - one-fifth of the total - averaged 66 hogs per farm and produced more than 56 percent of the nation’s hogs. Overall, the U.S. average in 1954 was 24 hogs per farm.

Spinelli said in the April issue of Farmline magazine that by 1964, producers selling 1,000 or more head per year provided 7 percent of total hog production. And by 1979, those larger producers accounted for 40 percent.

The trend continued in the 1980s, with the number of hog producers declining to 346,890 in 1987 from 640,000 in 1980.

As past studies have shown, Spinelli said, the advantage of ″economies of size″ fell to the large operations.

Those economies included pounds of hogs produced per litter, pigs farrowed and weaned per litter, litters produced and pigs weaned per female per year, death loss, weight of hogs sold and pounds of concentrate feeds required for each 100 pounds of production.

Among the largest farrow-to-finish operation, total costs of production generally were $15 to $20 lower per hundredweight of sales, on a long-term basis, than the smallest birth-to-market hog farms.

For those operations that bought feeder pigs to fatten, or finish, for the market, volume feed purchasing and other economies also reduced production costs.

″Larger hog finishers realize economies from increased production efficiencies and output price advantages, mainly from year-round marketings compared to seasonal marketings for smaller producers,″ Spinelli said.

Concentration also has occurred in the packing industry, he said. In 1989, although there were more than 1,100 plants slaughtering hogs in the United States, 33 of them accounted for 76 percent of the total U.S. hog slaughter.

Two dozen of these plants each slaughtered more than 1.5 million hogs per year.

Meanwhile, Spinelli said, these changes have occurred in the face of a ″relatively flat″ per capita rate of pork consumption by Americans, as measured on a boneless equivalent basis.

″The annual growth rate in total consumption was about the same as the rate of population growth,″ he said. ″That translates to about a 46 percent increase in boneless equivalent consumption from 1955 to 1989.″

Spinelli said the stagnant per capita pork consumption rate over time has been attributed partly to pork’s ″blue-collar″ image among consumers.

Although total pork consumption has increased, its share of U.S. meat and poultry consumption has declined over the years.

But with large operations coming on line, Spinelli said, their output could become more stable across seasonal periods than has been possible with smaller producers.

″In the process, pork production may become more cost competitive with the highly integrated poultry industry and possibly make some inroads in increasing per capita pork consumption levels,″ he said.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Four Agriculture Department scholarships for studies in veterinary medicine, with annual stipends of up to $10,000.

The awards are the first under the department’s new Saul T. Wilson Jr. Scholarship Program in veterinary medicine and biomedical science, officials said.

Recipients are:

-Gerald Rushin, Akron, Ohio, a junior at Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View, Texas, majoring in biology. He will receive up to $10,000 a year for tuition in veterinary school, which he will begin next year.

-Lauren Quinn, Westwood, Mass., a graduate of Harvard College now in her second year of veterinary studies at Tufts University in Boston. She will receive up to $10,000 annually for tuition.

-Wendy Burns, Detroit, a senior at Alabama A&M University, Normal, Ala., majoring in zoology. She will receive up to $5,000 per year while she completes undergraduate studies. She then will be considered for up to $10,000 per year while in veterinary school.

-Katherine Catinchi, Rio Piedras, P.R., a sophomore at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., majoring in animal science. She will get up to $5,000 a year until her undergraduate work is completed, and will be considered for up to $10,000 a year while in veterinary school.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - A team of Agriculture Department scientists has returned from Vietnam and China with hickory seeds they hope will help protect domestic pecan trees from pests and disease.

Pecans are the most popular nut of the Carya, or hickory, species and are one of the few crops native to North America. U.S. growers harvested 251 million pounds, valued at $179 million, in 1989.

Jerry A. Payne of the department’s Agricultural Research Service headed the three-member team that searched for Asian hickories. They brought back two species from Vietnam and two from China.

Payne, acting director of the agency’s fruit and tree nut laboratory in Byron, Ga., said in a report that the researchers want to see ″if there are genetic traits in the Asian hickory species ...that may strengthen the North American species.″

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