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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Possibilities for the Future of the U.S. Swine Industry

Livestock Update, January 2002

Kate Gillett and C. M. Wood, Virginia Tech

The U.S. swine industry needs to evaluate current production practices and production and then decide on what changes must be made to keep up with the times. The swine industry has changed greatly within the past ten years, as our nation has seen the reduction in the number of small family hog farms and the introduction of the corporate swine farm (Thu and Durrenberger, 1998). The current prevailing trend in the United States is toward a downsized agricultural sector that is made up of fewer but larger farms. According to the "Trends in Agriculture" report the average farm size has increased roughly 31% from 1900 to 1997 while the number of farms in the same period has decreased roughly 34% (NASS,1997). With this overwhelming push toward corporate agricultural production it is essential that the U.S. swine industry begin to identify emerging challenges and issues.

According to Plain (2001), there are ten trends that are shaping the swine industry: improved herd performance; fewer and bigger hog farms; specialization; fewer and bigger packing plants; geographic shift in production; integration of production and packing operations; integration of packing and processing operations; contract farming; the increase in world pork trade; and NIMBY (aka not in my backyard) and they are likely to continue. Therefore, methods of dealing with their consequences must be devised. The impacts of these trends are immense.

As the swine industry moves into the future it is essential for those at the forefront to use of all available tools to allow for smooth transitions. Simulation modeling can offer educated predications that allow for perceptive planning and control of future situations. The model functions by providing information on the direction and magnitude of a response, thus giving the producers options that are profitable (Whittemore, 1998).

Another important factor in a successful future for the swine industry is the cooperation between academics and producers. Land-grant universities and the cooperative extension programs will provide the industry with the concrete scientific and economic data that will be needed to advance (Glimp et al., 1998). Some of the resources that can be devised and jointly used include integrated systems research, development of flexible research agendas, and retraining of scientists, with an emphasis on communication and teamwork between academia and industry (Meeker, 1999).

Animal scientists have many of the same goals as livestock producers. In the future, through research, teaching, and extension, these goals must be brought together and problems faced concurrently in order to keep the swine industry strong (Meeker, 1999). Kalirajan and Shand (2000) stated that if farmers are unaided they will learn from their own experience and will be sluggish to understand the potential that new technology presents. The swine industry will also be faced with new policy issues as a more environmentally conscious America emerges. Explanation of new policies and their application can be provided through research conducted by the scientific community (Kunkel et al., 1998).

So, what does this all mean for the industry and the producers involved? Well, it means exciting new ways of producing a high quality product that consumers can feel good about buying. Producers will, in concert with academics, have greater access to and understanding of new technologies that will make them more economically efficient. Of course, a greater sense of alliance between research institutions and industry must be planned and implemented in a manner that will benefit both parties involved. A great amount of both financial and intellectual capital will be required to set up such an alliance, but in the end both sides will reap benefits beyond their investments. Overall, what will be needed from the swine industry is a willingness to venture out and try new ways of producing an improved product, and a willingness to work closely with scientists who have the means to develop the best ways to confront environmental and production performance issues.

Works Cited

Glimp, H. A., M. J. Havercamp, and S. Larson. 1998. The role of animal science in natural resource management: current decision making models and future needs. J. Anim. Sci. 76:948-953.

Kalirajan, K. P., and R. T. Shand. 2000. Technology and farm performance: paths of productive efficiencies over time. J. Ag. Econ. 24:297-306.

Kunkel, H. O., P. B. Thompson, B. A. Miller, and C. L. Skaggs. 1998. Use of competing conceptions of risk in animal agriculture. J. Anim. Sci. 76:706-713.

Meeker, D. L. 1999. What are the livestock industries doing, and what do they need from us?. J. Anim. Sci. 77:361-366.

NASS. 1997. National Agricultural Statistics Service web publications; trends; farm numbers. Available at: Accessed Oct. 22, 2001.

Plain, R. L. 2001. The U. S. swine industry: where we are and how we got here. J. Anim. Sci. 79(Suppl. 1):98 (Abstr.).

Thu, K. M., and E. P. Durrenberger. 1998. Pigs, Profits, and Rural Communities. State University of New York Press, New York.

Whittemore, C. 1998. The Science and Practice of Pig Production. 2nd ed. Blackwell Science Ltd., Malden, MA.

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