Yet another crisis in the hog industry

During my time in Ames I met quite a few current or previous students of the Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture (GPSA) in which both Jan and Cornelia Flora teach. The GPSA is a truly interdisciplinary program in which students with diverse (and often international) backgrounds meet. Although each student has a ‘home department’ such as sociology or agronomy, they go through the program together as a group, learning the social, biological and economic aspects of sustainability in agriculture.

I already heard from current students that they really appreciated course ‘509’. This Agroecosystems Analysis course starts with a two week tour around Iowa, in which the students visit a wide variety of farms and related industry. STA72350I was allowed to join the new group of students at start of the excursion tour last Saturday to the hog farm of the Struthers family in Collins, half an hour south west of Ames.

Before departure, Gretchen Zdorkowski, from the Agronomy Department, gave us an introductory lecture on agriculture in Iowa. In some ways, Iowa is quite similar to the Netherlands. Of all states, Iowa probably has been altered the most, with hardly any original landscape left. Like the Netherlands, Iowa has plenty of rainfall and is equally phenomenally drained to serve agricultural needs. Although the dominance of corn and soybean production (20% and 16% of US production respectively) contrast with the Netherlands, another similarity is the large number of pigs and chickens in Iowa. Whereas the Netherlands counted over 12 million pigs in 2008, Iowa had over 16 million pigs in 2005. Also, Iowa has the largest egg production industry in the US.

The US chicken industry is ruled by only 6 companies nowadays. The hog industry is not quite as concentrated as that but, according to farmer Dave Struthers, it is unfortunately moving in the same direction. Dave runs the family hog business, a breed to finish operation based on 750 sows at 8 different locations around Collins. It is one of a diminishing number of independent businesses which do not raise and finish on an integrator contract, but sell to the cash market.

STA72357The hogs are partly housed in individual crates and partly housed in groups in hoop houses. There are also 1000 acres of corn, exclusively used for feeding the hogs and for straw in the hoop houses. A combination of hogs and corn is rare nowadays but it allows Dave a better use of his own resources. The slurry and the partly composted manure from the hoop houses is used as fertilizer, accompanied by a ‘sideshower’ of artificial nitrogen when the corn is a few feet tall.

Dave showed us around on two of his locations, and we were even allowed to enter the nursery. “I want the farm to be open to people and I received visitors from all over the world” Dave explained. “I believe that when people know where their food comes from, they have more respect for it”.STA72371

Although a true family business, Dave is currently doing the larger part of the work by himself. He is forced to do so, because the hog industry is in crisis again. “I had a 20 dollar a head loss last week” Dave told us; 20 out of the last 22 months have known red numbers. This crisis is different from the one in the late nineties Dave explained, there seems no end to it now. “They say we need a production cut of 5 to 10 %, but that’s not happening for the moment.” The large integrators hardly cut down, as they can repair losses at one end with profit at the other – retail – end of their production pipeline. Awaiting better times, Dave tries to survive by downsizing production, cutting costs such as labor and intensifying the use of his own resources.

One thought on “Yet another crisis in the hog industry

  1. Hi Petra,
    You were so fascinating to talk with in our chocolate shop today that I decided to “google” your name and see what I could find out. You are all over the Internet with your articles.

    I came across this one and interestingly enough, Dave Struthers is a friend of mine and he and his family helped me on two occasions when I ran in two elections for the office of Sheriff before I opened our chocolate shop with my wife Anne. Dave and his family are well respected in Iowa and national farming circles.

    I have another friend here in the Ames/Story County area who is a major cattle producer. Bill Couser and I both graduated from Iowa State and he has his cattle business east of Ames just outside Nevada, IA, where Anne and I live. Bill also has a large farming operation. He is president of the local ethanol production facility called Lincolnway Energy. It is located between Ames and Nevada. If you are in the area long enough and would like to tour the ethanol plant or see Bill’s farming and cattle operation, let me know and I could try to arrange it. Bill is on the Iowa State campus often as he gives talks, etc. to a variety of classes about his cattle operation and the ethanol plant.

    I wish you could meet my father-in-law and mother-in-law, Drs. George and Jan Beran before you leave. They have traveled the world for various humanitarian causes and they once lived in the Philippines for 13 years. Dr. George Beran is a retired DVM instructor at Iowa State and his specialty area was in epidemiology, disease prevention, psuedorabies and rabies. He started a program in the area of the Phillippines where they lived and helped eradicate rabies in that province. He most recently was asked to go to Africa for a two week consultation for the World Health Organization about the rabies program he started in the Phillippines in the 70’s. The WHO is hoping to use that program to eliminate rabies in dogs in Africa. He went there and he is 81 years old. Dr. Beran, and his wife, Dr. Jan Beran are very respected around the world for their contributions. If you “google” them by name you will find a lot of articles about them. You can also “google” my name and see articles about our chocolate shop and how it came to be in Ames.

    Sorry this is so long. I am glad you were able to visit our chocolate shop and I hope you can come back before you leave Ames.

    Best,
    Terry Stark
    Chocolaterie Stam

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