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Livestock Farmer, Changes in hog production

Changes in hog production affect well-being of families, communities

Modern agricultural science that conceived and promoted industrial-like hog production has now "sprung back on us to create new problems," says a University of Minnesota rural sociologist.

"Vertical integration was supposed to reduce risks for farmers by providing stable markets," says Wynne Wright, rural sociologist at the U of M West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris. "For processing firms, it was supposed to stabilize raw material inputs. It was intended to make the commodity system more certain and predictable."

But Wright says vertical integration "has the opposite effect, when as a consequence of industrialized agriculture, we have endangered delicate ecological systems and diminished the social and human capital vital to the sustainability of people and rural communities."

Hog farming in the U.S. peaked in 1940 with 3.768 million operations. In 1940, Minnesota had 134,690 hog farms. By 1997, these farms had declined to 7,512, a drop of 94 percent. Overall, the number of U.S. farms selling hogs declined 43 percent just between 1992 and 1997, according to the 1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

"The decline in swine production and changes in operational structure appear to be having a profound impact on the well-being of many farmers, their families and the rural communities where they reside," Wright says.

She interviewed 50 Minnesota farm women involved in hog production, asking questions relating to women's labor on hog farms, decision making, civic participation and self-identity.

About 60 percent of the farms represented were single-family operations while 16 percent were family partnerships and 20 percent were family corporations. The farms averaged 1,187 acres, much larger than typical Minnesota farms. Of the 50 women, 49 were married with ages ranging from 29 to 61.

Almost all of the women upheld the traditional family farm as an essential social and economic unit. Wright says, "Many believed the farming lifestyle to be unique among other occupational groups, and therefore deserving of special interests."

Some 65 percent believed hog farming to be important to the economy of their communities, but many weren't optimistic about the future.

"The most alarming finding in this study was the degree of cultural depression and pessimism reported by the women," Wright says. Almost half of the women said they were unable to buy the things they need for their family.

For more information on the study, contact Wright at (320) 589-1711, or wrightw@mrs.umn.edu.



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