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Hog farmers continue to see obstacles, but market improving

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Swine producers are discovering the only constant in their industry is change.

John Michael Riley, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said a variety of challenges have kept the state’s swine producers adjusting their strategies to avoid financial losses in recent decades. Just when producers adjust to overcome one hurdle, another one develops to drive prices down and the cost of production up.

“Hog numbers declined nationally following last year’s drought when feed prices skyrocketed,” he said. “All livestock species were under pressure, including hogs, and the bottom line wasn’t looking pretty.”

Riley said the market has improved this year, with recent prices posting significant gains. August averages were about 13 percent above a year ago.

“Looking forward, there is an expectation that production will increase in 2014. Beef supply is in a crunch from a string of droughts, so poultry and hogs will fill that gap,” he said.

Riley said Mississippi had 415,000 hogs on Dec. 1, 2012, which was a 17 percent increase from 2011. Of that number, 52,000 were sows, a 58 percent increase from previous year.

“The 2012 value of production for hogs was $98 million, which was down about 11 percent from 2011 due to a decline in prices,” he said. “Projections are for a 2.7 percent increase in value in 2013.”

After working for almost 30 years as an Extension swine specialist, Mark Crenshaw can list several major events in recent decades that significantly changed the state’s swine industry.

“When I started working in Mississippi, feeder pig sales were common across the state, but they don’t exist anymore,” he said. “Then during the record-low prices in the late 1990s, you could just about buy a ham at the grocery for the same price as individual hogs were bringing.”

Crenshaw said another major event for the state’s swine industry occurred when Bryan Food’s closed its West Point meat plant in 2007. Kentucky became home to the nearest processing facility of that size.

“That’s a long way for producers to send hogs, and that’s not worth the transportation costs,” he said. “One company owns most of the pigs in Mississippi, and it ships them to other states, mostly Iowa, to finish growing them out for market.”

Crenshaw said a very small percentage of the state’s hogs are part of youth livestock shows or grown solely for personal or local consumption. A handful of local meat-processing businesses around the state remain available for small-scale producers.

“There is a growing interest in privately owned pigs for personal consumption, but when people find out how much it costs to raise them, they often change their minds,” he said. “Environmental regulations have a major impact on producers’ abilities to get in or stay in the business.”

Crenshaw said technology has been the best news for the industry in recent decades, and more advancements are coming.

“The industry has reduced feed costs with genetic improvements, which allow for better growth rates and feed efficiency,” he said. “The overall health of pigs is much better with vaccine advancements and improved housing ventilation.”

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