Pork industry an illogical quagmire


Before a months-long summer slips into a months-long winter, it’s time to use this week or two interlude – formerly called fall – to sweep my office.
First off, the October Successful Farming magazine, the annual issue listing the nation’s “Pork Powerhouses,” shows that the 20 largest pig producers in the U.S. now own 3,124,700 sows, or more than three times what the big pig boys had just 14 years ago when Successful Farming began tracking the industrialization of American pork production.
This unimaginable scale means that just 20 operations own more than half of the pork mommas nationwide and, according to Successful Farming, now “produce 55 percent to 60 percent of all U.S. pigs” each year.
Illogical. Given the corporatization of American hog production, can any independent hog grower tell me why they still pay the federally-mandated pork checkoff when over half the benefits gained by the tens of millions in annual checkoff spending flows to just 20 or so companies and their shareholders?
Surely these big boys are now big enough to pay for their own product research, market development and manure management strategies.
Another question: If 60 percent of all U.S. pork can be traced to producers whose number equals the number of your fingers and toes – fingers and toes, incidentally, which more than 130,000 hog farmers used to exit pig production since Successful Farming began compiling the “Powerhouse” database in 1994 – shouldn’t the National Pork Producers Council be renamed the National Pork Producers Club?
Tax exemption. Questions also arise why the brothers Salazar, U.S. Sen. Ken and U.S. Rep. John, both Colorado Democrats, are pushing for an unlimited federal estate tax exemption on farmland.
Each has a bill in their respective chamber that will cause more harm than good, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
First, cites the center, despite the brothers’ well intentions, the latest Internal Revenue Service statistics show that only 1,659 farmers nationwide owed any estate taxes in 2000 when the exemption was just one-third today’s level.
Second, and more important, an unlimited estate exemption for farmland “could easily be abused by wealthy individuals whose primary occupation is not farming,” explained the center, and “have a truly perverse effect: it could reduce the number of family farmers and make it more difficult to keep farms within families.”
Can you say Ted Turner?
Abuse measures. To be fair, the legislating Salazars include anti-abuse measures in their bills, like a recapture clause for tax-only investors. Such speed bumps, however, are unnecessary if Congress simply makes permanent some level of the currently rising exemptions – $4 million per couple in 2007, $7 million in 2009.
At $7 million per farming couple (make it $10 million, I don’t care), virtually no farming family would ever pay estate taxes after 2009 and few, if any, off-the-farm fat cats would compete with farmers to purchase farmland because of a cozy tax shelter on it.
Ah, but doing the simplest, and, often as not, the right, thing is an act this Congress seems incapable of performing. The Senate farm bill, hopefully out of the Ag Committee by the time you read this, is easily the handiest example of this worsening inability.
Crazy. Not doing the right thing was the one thing that drove A.V. “Al” Krebs crazy.
A journalist’s journalist, Al spent over 50 years getting the facts of farming and food on the record for numerous newspapers and magazines. The pictures his words painted were always accurate and often unflattering.
The culmination of his tireless reporting was the definitive Corporate Reapers: The Book on Agribusiness. Oct. 9, Al, at 75, died of liver cancer. His book, however, will live forever.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.)


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com