Pennsylvania independent hog farmers are sizing up new market
options and awaiting a major spotlight on their situation
next year as the state’s PIG (Pigs in Grass) Alliance
continues its groundbreaking work.
Hog Summit 2003 will be the Pennsylvania-customized version
of the format of summits in North Carolina (2001) and Iowa
(2002). It will update and localize the combination of academic
research, market opportunities for well-raised hogs, environmental
analysis and explanations of ways for citizen to challenge
the growing industrial farm dominance in the hog sector.
||"While Niman would like to develop
a source of hogs for the Eastern market, they realized
they can’t just repeat their Iowa-based success
here. The Midwest systems have cheaper corn and lower
real estate taxes. Trucking costs, hog sale price and
the prohibition against feeding any animal protein are
all concerns to PA farmers."
Bringing the Summit to the Keystone state was a major goal
of the group.
The Alliance sponsored autumn visits to Philadelphia and
Centre County by leaders of California-based Niman Ranch –
Bill Niman, owner, and Paul Willis, head of the Niman pork
program in the Midwest. A PASA-sponsored Centre-county meeting
brought out about 100 people to learn about the stiff requirements
growers must meet to sell to Niman for a premium price.
After hearing some of the differences between hog production
in the Midwest and Pennsylvania, the growers attending felt
like their best option might be to develop their own production
and marketing initiative, according to Brian Snyder. He is
executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable
Agriculture (PASA), which co-sponsored the meeting with the
In the Midwest (mostly Iowa and Missouri), Niman Ranch (www.nimanranch.com)
provides a top-dollar – but limited – market for
hogs raised to their specifications: humane handling, outdoor
pasture, deep-straw bedding, no GMO grain, no fed animal proteins,
no fed antibiotics or growth promotants.
While Niman (pronounced NI-man) would like to develop a regional
source of hogs for the Eastern market, they realized they
can’t just repeat their Iowa-based success here. The
Midwest systems have cheaper corn and lower real estate taxes.
Trucking costs, hog sale price and some concern for the prohibition
against feeding any animal protein were all issues raised
in Centre County. Feeding on-farm produced milk would be OK,
but feeding even clean offal from healthy slaughtered poultry,
for instance, would be prohibited under the Niman standards.
An additional wrinkle of difference here was the relative
nearness of hog farmers to centers of demand in Philadelphia
and Pittsburgh, where they already have their champions. Many
of Niman Ranch’s Midwestern producers are much more
remote from willing markets.
What’s Next? Call PASA
Regional producers who want be at the table when family-scale
farmers talk more about how to develop a marketing group should
contact Snyder at (814) 349-9856. PASA is a PIG Alliance partner,
and coordinated the Centre County meeting with Niman Ranch
in early October.
Snyder reports that family-farm hog producers in Pennsylvania
have been “badly burnt, taken advantage of and forgotten”
by the current production system. “They won’t
easily trust people that show up to announce ‘We want
to help you.’” PASA’s goal is not to bring
a new farmers’ group under its wing, but just to facilitate
farmers getting together to start a truly farmer-centered,
farmer-driven dialogue on how to proceed, he said.
A possible longer-term focus would be to develop a farmer-owned
and -operated processing plant. This would relieve current
concerns of some producers who can’t get guarantees
that they get back the same the high-quality hogs they take
in for slaughter, and other issues of transport, humane treatment
and acceptance of smaller lots of hogs.
Basically, they want greater quality control assurances at
plants closer to their farm and points of sale. If all the
hogs being slaughtered were of a similar premium quality,
the need for tracking of individual carcasses would be less
Snyder said the PIG Alliance had met two of its initial three
goals: giving the Niman Ranch model exposure to area farmers
and bringing the Hog Summit to the state. Tackling the more
complicated, capital-intensive, and regulation-dense task
of researching, strategizing, organizing then coming to own
and operate a slaughtering facility will be a long process,