Many people want bacon on their burgers and ham for the holidays. But nobody wants a pig in the parlor. And a University of Georgia economist says that not-in-my-backyard attitude poses a real threat to pork production in Georgia.
"In the early 1980s, we had about 300,000 head of breeding stock," said John McKissick, an economist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Now we're down to about 100,000 head. That's not enough to support a processing facility that could sustain the industry."
Hogs are still the No. 10 commodity in Georgia, with $168
cash receipts in 1996. But production has steadily declined,
since the 1996 closing of the Premium Pork processing
plant in Moultrie, Ga.
"Georgia producers now get $3 to $4 per hundredweight less
hogs than in other parts of the
country. That's because the hogs have to be shipped to the processors," McKissick said. "And farmers here have to pay more for grain, which has to be shipped in (mostly from the Midwest)."
A new group of farmers, the Sunbelt Pork Cooperative, Inc.,
options for opening a new
processing plant, McKissick said.
The co-op hopes to process hogs grown not just in Georgia but in the surrounding states. "But if Sunbelt opens a kill floor in Georgia," he said, "we will have some expansion in pork production in the state."
Some proposed large hog farms in Taylor, Tattnall and Jenkins
have met vocal local opposition. Opponents of proposed 10,000-
hog farms argue that the farms'ÿ waste
would pollute local streams and groundwater supplies.
The proposed large-scale farms aren't related to the co-op's
to build a processing plant, McKissick said. In fact, the
would ship pigs out of the state, probably to
Midwestern states, to be grown to size for slaughter.
UGA engineer Mark
such large farms carry a greater risk of catastrophic failure
huge storms such as hurricanes. But the day-to-day waste management is likely to be better.
"We can design waste management systems that will protect
quality," Risse said. "It all depends on the operator, though. If water quality problems arise from
a hog farm, it's because the operator isn't managing the system properly."
Risse said that the same isn't true of the smell.
"If you have a big hog operation, you're going to have an
said. "We have many
scientists at the university working on odor control. But we don't presently have a system designed to keep it from affecting air quality. The only answer now is distance."
Opponents of hog farms lately have been demanding huge
want the farms in some
other county, if not some other state. That's not good for farmers or the state's economy, McKissick
"When you consider the uncertain future of some of our major
particularly peanuts and
tobacco, you can see how important it is to have some diversity in agriculture," he said. "We need
enterprises like pork production that aren't land-based."
McKissick said the state needs to get back to the 300,000-
of the early '80s. That would
still be only a third of the million-head level in North Carolina.
"That's the level the industry needs to support a processing
he said. "That's a level that can
Interestingly, McKissick said expanding production to meet
of a processing plant would
be mainly in the form of the mid-size farms that draw little fire from neighbors.
"But the opposition to these proposed large-scale farms
taints all of
hog production," he said. "It
puts a damper on the industry's efforts to rebuild."
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)