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Our Position on Livestock,
Rural Communities and the Economy

by the Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Columbia, Missouri

Hogs have been vital to the economic health of Midwestern family farms and rural communities for generations. Known as “mortgage lifters,” hogs provided needed income for farm families and rural communities.

This fact has been turned on its head by factory farm proponents to suggest that more hogs means more economic development for rural communities. The truth becomes myth when corporate ag supporters fail to include the structure of the hog industry into their analysis of hog production and rural economic development.

Hogs provided a healthy economic base for farm and rural economies when the animals were owned by large numbers of independent producers who sold their hogs in competitive, open markets. Under this structure, hog production provided income to farm families, which in turn fueled local economies through such things as buying inputs locally and a diversified tax base to fund schools, roads, and government services.

In the past 20 years the hog industry has changed radically. Today most of the hogs in the United States are owned or controlled by enormous factory farm corporations. In 2003, 50% of the hog operations were owned by just 110 farms. Corporate livestock production actually hurts rural economies rather than helps them. A closer look at key economic indicators clearly illustrates this point.

As much as factory farms supporters would like us believe that this change in hog industry structure is inevitable, it simply isn’t true. Family farmers, still the most efficient hog producers, cannot only compete but thrive when the playing field is leveled. And when family farms thrive, so do rural communities and the environment.

The U. S. Pork Industry: Key Statistics

(Source: USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Agriculture Statistics Service) |

Since 1985, the U.S. hog industry has undergone a major structural change. Corporate meatpackers and retailers have increased their stranglehold over the marketplace, driving down prices they pay to farmers and increasing the price consumers pay at the grocery store. Meatpackers also use their market power to dictate how hogs are produced by offering sweetheart deals to industrial livestock operations. The result has been a shift in hog production away from a large number of diversified family farms toward a much smaller number of industrial livestock operations.

Number of hog farmers
Number of hogs marketed
45.5 million
50.7 million
54.4 million
Retail price of pork
Farmers’ share of consumer dollar
44 cents
37 cents
26 cents
**In Missouri, the number of hog farmers has dropped from 23,000 in 1985 to 2200 in 2004, an 90% decline.

Two Paths: Family Farms / Industrial Livestock

The Path to Family Farms
The Path to Industrial Livestock
Family Farms are more likely to re-invest their revenue into land and capital improvements that are a positive addition to property values. Factory farms decrease property values in areas that surround them. Farms and communities within a few miles of factory farms have had their property de-valued by 5-50% depending on the distance.
Family Farms have a much smaller number of animals per operation. In fact, 75% of US hog operations have less than 500 hogs. Some factory farms have more than 80,000 sows. Industrial livestock facilities generate massive amounts of manure that poses a dangerous threat to the air and water in rural areas. In 3 counties of Northern Missouri, Premium Standard Farms produces 1.6 million hogs per year, generating the same waste as a city of more than 2 million people. These facilities have discharged more than a million gallons of liquefied feces into the streams and rivers of Northern Missouri.
While factory farm income is usually siphoned-off as profit for investors, family farm hog producers turn to other businesses in their communities to provide the needed inputs for their farms. Studies have indicated that when comparing an equal number of sows on factory farms versus family farms, the family farm system creates: 10% more permanent jobs, a 20% larger increase in local retail sales and a 37% larger increase in local income per capita. Factory farm livestock production has created serious consumer concerns about food safety and the environment, and has provided no economic benefit to consumers. From 1993-2003, the retail price of pork has increased 35%. During the same period, the hog producers’ share of the retail dollar (the amount of every retail dollar that the producer receives) has plummeted 37.8 percent from 37 cents to 23 cents.
A University of Missouri study found that factory farms create a net loss of employment because they drive family farmers and the local merchants that depend upon them out of business. 12,000 hogs produced under factory farm contracts would create 9.44 jobs (4.25 on the factory farm and 5.19 in the community), but they would displace 27.97 jobs (12.6 on the farm and 15.37 in the community).

Choosing the right path: Sustainable Family Farm Livestock Production

A sustainable family farm system of livestock production is economically, socially and environmentally superior to its factory farm counterpart. To make this system flourish, what is needed are measures that level the playing field between family farmers and vertically integrated corporations like Smithfield Foods, Cargill, and Premium Standard Farms. These measures include:
  • Demanding a fair, open, and competitive marketplace for independent family farm producers, including full enforcement of anti-trust laws, and a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock;
  • Eliminating taxpayer subsidies to corporate factory farms;
  • Holding factory farm corporations financially liable for pollution caused by their operations;
  • Encouraging or requiring state institutions to use their food buying dollars to support local family farm produced food.

Consumers also play an important role in choosing the path we take. Buying directly from producers can give consumers full knowledge of where their food comes from and at the same time allows farmers to capture the largest share of the retail dollar.

Also see:

Published in In Motion Magazine, December 12, 2005

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