Ohio pork: More pigs, more profit

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COLUMBUS – The pork industry is using less physical labor and getting record outputs, according to speakers at last week’s Profession Pork Producers Symposium in Columbus.
More automation and better management make pork production more efficient in Ohio, experts said.
Records. National pork exports – 1.023 million metric tons of meat – totaled a record $2.227 billion in 2004, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Last calendar year was the 14th consecutive year of record-setting pork exports, according to Richard Fritz, vice president for trade development for the meat export federation.
Checkoff help. Fritz said the record was likely helped along by $8.4 million in federal pork checkoff dollars allotted for overseas marketing.
“Has the checkoff helped producers? That’s up to you to judge. In 1995 the U.S. became a net exporter of pork,” Fritz said, noting exports totaled about 28,000 head per day.
“Economists all say our returns are due to a strengthened export market,” Fritz said.
Market access. According to National Pork Producers Council President Keith Berry, a producer from Greencastle, Ind., increased market access created by trade agreements is the driving force behind the export growth.
“If you don’t have market access, you can’t sell the product,” Berry said.
Since the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreement, U.S. pork exports have increased 337 percent by volume and 292 percent by value, he said.
Pork producers have also been able to reap benefits of other trade deal in markets such as Mexico, China and Russia.
According to Berry, a recent trade deal negotiated with Russia that established U.S.-only quotas for pork also has lifted U.S. pork exports.
That deal closed out other competitors and the U.S. has good sales there, Richard Fritz said.
Fritz said he thinks exports will rise even further when a trade agreement with China kicks in soon, and expects exports to Japan will continue rising in 2005.
“Global consumption is still on an upward trend,” Fritz said.
Ranking. Trends in the pork industry are helping Ohio producers do their part in marketing more pigs in the global store.
According to Ohio agricultural statistics for 2003, Ohio had slightly more than 1.5 million hogs and ranked 10th nationwide in hog numbers.
Hog production cash receipts for 2003 totaled nearly $277 million.
Pigs per sow. A major factor is more pigs being born alive and weaned, according to Tim Loula, a swine veterinarian from St. Peter, Minn.
Loula said in the 27 years he’s practiced, he’s never gone from farm to farm and seen litters of 11-plus born alive consistently until now.
Loula said it’s common to wean 27-30 pigs per sow per year now, and has three or four clients in Ohio who weaned an average 27 pigs per sow last year.
Loula credited that with improved genetic selection, higher quality semen and better breeding schemes.
Efficiency. Other technology is helping hog farms save labor and money.
Popular now are automatic sow lactation feeders and biodegradable nursery or farrowing house mats, Loula said.
The mats are made from corn stalks and wood fibers. After one use, pork producers throw them out and save the time previously used to clean them.
Farms are also taking biosecurity more seriously, and many have implemented Trucker Quality Assurance training, a project of the National Pork Checkoff.
Trainers recently certified the 10,000th handler in the United States.
Part of the training is proper cleaning of the trailer between loads to prevent diseases from being carried between farms.
“We’re pretty sure, with all the things we do, we’re not dragging [disease] in on us, on shoes, supplies, by pigs,” Loula said.
“Our trucks are the last link. We just want to make it idiot-proof so no one makes mistakes,” he said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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