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Published November 16, 2012, 12:00 AM

It's no hog heaven here

Raising pigs is no hog heaven in The Peace Garden State. “It’s a pretty labor intensive industry raising pigs, between all of the daily chores, feeding, managing the barns and taking care of the breeding stocks that have to be done,” said Charlotte Meier, Regent. Meier has served as state executive for the North Dakota Pork Council.

Raising pigs is no hog heaven in The Peace Garden State.

“It’s a pretty labor intensive industry raising pigs, between all of the daily chores, feeding, managing the barns and taking care of the breeding stocks that have to be done,” said Charlotte Meier, Regent.

Meier has served as state executive for the North Dakota Pork Council.

She said there was no lack of work when she and her family raised pigs for 20 years before the family decided to give up the practice due to personal reasons, she said.

Meier said they finished their venture in the hog industry by raising about 500 pigs a year.

“The farm we had purchased was set up for raising them, so it was a natural fit for us to raise pigs at that time,” she said.

Not only has Meier’s litter diminished, she said the pork industry in North Dakota has withered over time. Although it is still possible to find larger operations across the state that raise numerous hogs, she was not aware of any such operations in Stark County.

“The pork industry got smaller in North Dakota, at least in part, because over time the corn used as feed for the pigs got to be very expensive,” Meier said. “It is also difficult to find a market for to sell hogs around here, since the nearest hog processing plants are in places like Minnesota and Iowa. For that reason, I would say that having access to market pigs keeps some people out of the pork industry in North Dakota.”

Although it is not North Dakota’s specialty, pork is the most widely eaten meat worldwide, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural service.

North Dakota produces less than 1 percent of the nation’s total pork supply, according to the USDA.

The top five pork producing states in the nation for 2010 were Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana.

Charlie Noyce is a Dickinson farmer who has raised pigs since he was a child and now has about a half dozen pigs that his family uses for their own purposes.

“I don’t raise hogs for profit,” he said. “See, you need corn or barley to fatten these pigs up right, and with the grain prices as high as they are right now, it is economically hard for farmers to raise pigs at this time.”

Noyce said it also did not help the hog industry when the slaughter house in Minot shut down after the flood hit the area last year, forcing hog producers to travel further, often out of state, to slaughter or take their pigs to market.

But the circumstances could change and make hog raising more attractive again to farmers, Noyce said.

“Hogs are the cheapest big livestock, so if you have to feed, you’re better off putting it into other livestock right now,” he said. “That might change in a few months though, if grain prices go down and hog prices go higher, but at the present moment hogs just aren’t a good investment for farmers to get into.”

Chip Poland, chairperson of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies at Dickinson State University, said the pork industry is small in North Dakota, given the resources we have available for pork production.

“We produce a fair amount of feed grains and have a fairly open landscape, which are all right variables for the pork industry. So why don’t we have a bigger pork industry here?” he said.

Unfortunately, the answer is purely speculation, Poland said.

“Part of it is likely due to the distance producers have to travel to get to a processing facility, and part of it is also a lack of feeder pigs,” he said. “There is also public perception and issues associated with production, especially odor that has to be dealt with. People simply do not want to smell it, even in a rural state like North Dakota.”

Poland said the state’s pig population declined as producers moved toward more modern agricultural practices, with farming operations that are less diversified than they once were.

“I’ve been in North Dakota since 1994 and I’m astounded that the industry has not grown,” he said. “In western North Dakota, I would say it is not outside the realm of possibility that we could see the industry grow.”

Any growth, Poland predicts, will be dependent on some factors.

“But with feed costs as high as they are and the distance producers have to travel to harvest facility and to get quality feeder pigs, there are a lot of issues that have to be overcome to grow the industry,” he said. “Those are all problems that need to be dealt with beyond dealing with public perception of the pork production, so I’m still waiting to see.”

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