Pig farmers go grassroots
September 8, 2009
Like many other domestic food producers, 2009 has been a rough year for pig farms.
Sterling Banks, director of the Utah State University Extension in Coalville, estimates there to be only one or two year-round pig operations in the county. Mostly it’s the business of 4-H kids and Future Farmers of America members.
Statewide, however, it’s one of the biggest players in Utah’s agricultural exports. Circle 4 Farms, east of Beaver, ships 24,000 pigs a week to California for slaughter, says Lu Arnold, promotions director of Utah Pork Producers.
Arnold was in Park City Sept. 2 meeting with the Lions Club as a volunteer with Operation Main Street, a grassroots effort by the National Pork Board to enhance communication between pork producers and the rural communities in which they reside.
Pork is important, Arnold said. In addition to supplying quality protein, which is safer, healthier and leaner than at any time before, pig by-products are included in crayons, chalk, cement, cosmetics, many varieties of gooey candies and more.
In fact, Arnold’s husband used to supply animals to the University of Utah and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to be used for organ transplants especially heart valves.
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But the price of pork is low, Arnold said. The H1N1 Virus getting dubbed Swine Flu didn’t help. People killed pigs or stopped buying the meat as a precautionary measure even though pigs didn’t have anything to do with the disease.
Too many farmers have also tried starting up pig operations as side businesses. It’s caused an oversupply that is driving down prices, she said.
It’s not difficult to raise pigs, but it is to find a buyer for them. Utah doesn’t have any sufficient packing plants to keep the pork raised here in stores here.
Utah’s grocery stores carry meat from the Mid-West, she said. Large producers in Cache County sell theirs to plants in Idaho or Oregon. Most of what Circle 4 Farms produces near Milford is consumed in California. This scenario translates to a lot of freight costs for everyone.
Making matters worse, ethanol production in recent years has driven the price of feed up. Pig farms consume about 10 percent of the nation’s corn, Arnold said. Competition for that corn is now fiercer than ever. That’s also prompted soy bean farmers to switch crops.
Arnold’s family farm was shut down after her husband retired, but soy is about eight times what they used to pay, and nearly six times what their very last load cost.
She’ll be at the state fair this month promoting locally-produced pork. Better feed and management habits have created healthier pigs than in the past. Age-old wisdom about pork isn’t true anymore, she said.
"Today’s pork is not your parent’s pork," she said. "Our parent’s advice to cook it to death doesn’t apply anymore."
The meat is cleaner, so if consumers like their beef rare, they should feel comfortable cooking their pork the same way, she said. And a small portion of pork has the same, if not less, fat than a chicken breast and far less than the bird’s dark meat.
If a resident wants to try their hand at growing a pig in the backyard, Arnold warns that they don’t do well with raw food scraps. In fact, all slop should be cooked, she said. Grain is the best feed for pigs, and a concrete pen lined with shavings is better than a mud pen. Concrete is better on their feet and the mud holds worms and diseases.