This Little Piggy Went to Market: Will the New Pork Industry Call the Heartland Home?

By Drabenstott, Mark | Economic Review - Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Third Quarter 1998 | Go to article overview

This Little Piggy Went to Market: Will the New Pork Industry Call the Heartland Home?


Drabenstott, Mark, Economic Review - Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City


Throughout the 1990s, the pork industry has been at the forefront of a revolution in the structure of the U. S. food and agricultural sector. In particular, the pork industry has been rapidly moving away from its traditional structure built on hundreds of thousands of small farms selling hogs at local terminal markets to a much more concentrated "supply chain" model. Contracting is one prominent feature of supply chains, and the share of pork production grown under contract or vertical integration has jumped from a few percent in the early 1980s to around a third today. Most analysts agree that the structure of the U.S. pork industry will soon resemble that of the U.S. poultry industry, which moved to a supply chain structure more than three decades ago. In short, the hog industry, once a quintessential "family farm" enterprise, has gone to market-a very big market.

As the pork industry's structure has changed, so has its geography. Raising hogs was once heavily concentrated in the Corn Belt, since corn is the primary feed for hogs. The shift to supply chains, however, has taken the pork industry to many new places. North Carolina and Virginia became major pork states in the 1980s. More recently, the industry has moved aggressively into states in the Great Plains that used to be cattle country, Oklahoma being a good case in point. Pork production there has leaped nearly 900 percent since 1990.

Where the pork industry locates in the future carries big economic implications. At the farm level, hog production generated $13.2 billion in farm revenue in 1998. When processing activities are thrown in, economists estimate that pork is a $28 billion industry that employs roughly 600,000 people (Otto and Lawrence). The Heartland has a major stake in the location outcome. The seven states of the Tenth District now account for nearly a fifth of the nation's hog production.

Yet where this important agricultural industry calls home in the future is far from certain. Recent trends would suggest the Heartland has a strong claim on the new pork industry, offering convenient access to feed and final markets. But where the industry finally settles seems sure to depend on more than just the usual economic factors. The new pork industry is sparking a furious debate throughout the nation on a handful of policies critical to the industry, and the outcome will influence where the industry goes next. Many states are reluctant to embrace the new pork industry because it does bring with it an unpleasant byproduct-an abundance of animal waste. Thus some states are enacting environmental regulations to discourage further expansion.

As the pork industry continues its rapid transition to a supply chain structure, will it also continue its migration to the wide-open spaces ofthe Heartland? Or, will new economic and policy developments lead some companies to consider moving hog production to a brand new list of destinations?

This article concludes that the recent geographic shift in the U.S. pork industry could foreshadow still more shifts in the future, possibly including moves to Canada, Mexico, or South America. The first section of the paper reviews recent trends in the U.S. pork industry, and shows that the industry is well on its way toward a supply chain structure, much like the U.S. broiler industry. The section also documents the regional shifts in production that have accompanied an evolution to more contract production and bigger farms. The second section analyzes two issues likely to influence the future location of the U.S. pork industry-economic factors and environmental regulations. The final section draws some conclusions about possible future geographic shifts in pork production.

I. THE NEW U.S. PORK INDUSTRY

The pork industry is rapidly reorganizing itself to deliver products that meet the rising expectations of consumers. To provide products that are leaner, more consistent, and more convenient to prepare, the industry has built new alliances with hog breeders and producers to ensure breeding and production decisions that yield a superior product. …

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