Don't expect the recently announced federal payments to small pork producers to help Georgia farmers much, says a University of Georgia economist.
On Jan. 12, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman outlined ways the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help struggling small pork producers. But the farm size limits that restrict the payments will likely cut out many Georgia family farms.
"It's hard to say exactly how many dollars would go to Georgia," said John McKissick, an Extension Service agricultural economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"We have a number of producers in that category. But they don't have a large number of hogs. And many of them have gone out of business," McKissick said. "So the payments will help some. But they will leave out a lot of family farms that are over the size limit."
The restrictions could hit hard on Georgia's already suffering hog business.
"The pork business in the state is suffering," McKissick said. "This latest tragedy is that the producers are facing the lowest prices since the 1930s. Minus inflation, they're actually the lowest prices this century.
"In Georgia, we lost our last packer two and a half years ago," he said. "So we get even less than the national price for our hogs, because we don't have the buying power of our competition."
As a result of those factors, Georgia's hog numbers steadily dropped since the 1980s.
"Right now we have roughly one-fifth of the hogs we had in 1980," McKissick said, "and roughly one-fourth of what we had as late as 1990."
The last Hog and Pig Report by the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service shows that as many as 290 Georgia farms can qualify for these payments.
"Operations under 2,000 head had only 30 percent of the production in the state last year," McKissick said. "The numbers may sound big. But the amount per producer would be relatively small.
"You miss many of our real commercial producers who depend on pork for their income but are still family farms, not the large operations," he said. "But they won't be eligible for any of this help."
Eligible farmers will get up to $5 per slaughter-weight hog (or the equivalent for feeder pigs and other swine) marketed during the last six months of 1998.
Farmers will be paid only on up to 500 market hogs (or an equivalent number of feeder pigs). The maximum payment will be $2,500 per operation.
No payments will be made to farms whose 1998 gross income was over $2.5 million, as is true for USDA's crop disaster assistance programs.
Glickman said farmers are eligible if they sold fewer than 1,000 hogs during the last six months of '98 and are still in operation today. They're not eligible for payments on hogs marketed under fixed-price or cost-plus contracts.
Farmers should apply for direct payments at their local Farm Service Agency office from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12. Payments will be made around the end of February.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)