Jeffery lays in the hay on Friday, March, 19, 2021, in Chillicothe, Mo. He has what owner Andrew Geiser calls a mule foot, solid like a horses, which is a rare hog breed in the U.S. Geiser believes in what he calls "being a steward of the land. I was taught to leave things better than you found them," he said. Credit: Danielle Pycior, for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

This is the last in a five-part series titled “Scaling Up.” For the past five weeks, we’ve released a new graphic explaining one way the pork industry has changed in recent years. 

North Carolina, Iowa and Minnesota are all important pork-producing states, but the economic models for each state’s pork industry differ, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study found. 

All together, the three states house nearly 60% of the hogs in the U.S. 

Hog operations in North Carolina also tend to be less diverse businesses, while hog farms in the Midwest are more likely to operate crop fields in addition to the livestock barns, according to the report. 

Production contracts are “nearly universal” in North Carolina, the study states. And while contract use has increased in Iowa and Minnesota, the Midwestern states are well below North Carolina’s rate of production contract usage. 

Read earlier entries in this series:
  1. Scaling Up: The weighty impact of hog farming’s evolution?
  2. Scaling Up: Pork producers are becoming more specialized
  3. Scaling Up: Use of production contracts has become the norm
  4. Scaling Up: Raising hogs has gotten less expensive, especially for big farms

The study theorizes that since the pork industry in North Carolina rapidly expanded in the 1990s, new hog farmers may have been more open to contracting with large companies. Longtime hog farmers in the Midwest, however, may be more focused on staying independent, according to economist Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and one of the authors of the USDA report.

“In North Carolina, it kind of became a hog state all at once,” Dimitri said. “So people haven’t been growing, raising hogs there for 200 years like they have in these other states.”

The expansion of large hog operations in the two regions are connected. While Iowa has long been a large producer of pork, North Carolina’s hog industry grew rapidly from the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s. When a 1997 moratorium curtailed expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in North Carolina, the number of large hog operations in Iowa and Minnesota increased.

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