Scaling up: The weight impact of the evolution of pig farming?

This is the first in a five-part series called “Scaling Up”. Each week we’ll post a new graphic explaining one way the pork industry has changed over the past few decades. This week we are focusing on changing the size of farms.

Since the 1990s, pig farms have become larger, more specialized and more productive, according to a new report by the Environmental Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.

The report illustrates sweeping changes in several aspects of the pig industry over the past three decades, tracking how the industry has moved away from small operations where farmers raised pigs from birth to slaughter and towards large farms focusing on only one or two life stages of the pig. cycle.

“(Swine farms) are big, and because they’re big, they can take advantage of economies of scale,” said economist Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of nutrition and food studies at the Institute. New York University and one of the study’s authors. report. “That seems to be what the industry looks like now.”

The larger the farm, the lower the cost of production per pig. This economic principle drove the evolution of the industry toward concentrated animal feed operations, or CAFOs, which proliferated throughout the Midwest.

In addition to examining farm size and specialization, the report also describes changes in agricultural production contracts, input costs and regional differences. (More on these in the coming weeks.)

The report cites technological innovation as a driving force for change. Ben Lilliston, director of climate and rural strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said corporate consolidation and policy decisions, such as subsidies in the 1990 and 1996 Farm Bills that lowered the cost of food for animals, have also contributed to the transformation of the sector.

The evolution of the hog industry towards larger and more specialized operations has also negatively affected air and water quality in areas with high CAFO density.

GRAPH: Small farms have disappeared while large hog operations have increased in number

While almost half of all small and medium hog farms have closed in recent decades, the number of large farms has almost doubled.

In 1997, large farms accounted for almost 40% of hogs produced in the United States. Twenty years later, those farms were producing more than 72% of America’s hogs, according to the report.

CAFOs are an economically efficient way to raise pigs because larger farms have lower production costs per animal, according to the report.

CAFOs are subject to more regulations and licensing requirements than small operations, although information about them is sparse. These very large farms can produce over 1 million gallons of waste per year, often resulting in air and water pollution.

The The USDA considers a hog farm to be a CAFO if more than 2,500 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds are confined in the facility for at least 45 days per year.

Next week: we’ll show how pork producers specialize.

About Keneth T. Graves

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