Finally, Georgia pork prices are sizzling again.
"Bacon prices are really propping up the entire retail pork industry right now," said John McKissick, an economist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.
Current retail bacon prices are as high as they've ever been, he said. He cites two main reasons: stronger demand for bacon and leaner hogs.
More fast food outlets are adding bacon to their burger products. The bacon adds flavor, and more customers find they like that added flavor.
Extension foods and nutrition specialist Connie Crawley said most people can work bacon into a well-balanced diet.
"If you choose a bacon burger, you might pick a smaller burger and select a lower-fat side dish like a baked potato with a reduced-calorie drink," she said. "It's all in how often and how much you eat it."
The hogs Georgia farmers raise in the '90s have about half the fat of hogs raised in the 1960s. They've responded to consumer demand for leaner pork cuts like loins and roasts.
Leaner hogs naturally have less bacon. Extension animal scientist David Bishop said bacon makes up about 12 percent of the meat from today's leaner hogs.
"If they get much leaner, we start losing meat quality and edibility," he said.
Those lean hogs are in demand around the world, too -- "particularly in Asia and the Orient," McKissick said.
Through 1995, the cost to raise hogs was almost higher than the price farmers could get for them. "As we got into 1996, demand started rising," McKissick said. "And farmers responded to meet that demand."
For farmers, though, as price at the livestock markets rose, so did the cost to raise them. Feed prices soared. Pork prices were looking up, McKissick said, but many hog farms weren't making a profit.
As the cost to feed hogs drops through early 1997, the profits in raising hogs will rise.
McKissick figures farmers will increase the number of hogs they raise over the next year to meet foreign market and domestic demand.
That's good for retail shoppers, too.
"1997 will probably mean lower retail prices," he said. "Prices will possibly drop as much as 10 cents per pound on some cuts."
The increase in pork demand, both by foreign markets and the fast food industry, is good news for Georgia pork producers.
"The 1996 prices were the highest we've seen to farmers since 1990," McKissick said.