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Opposition to Hog Farms Could Hamper Pork Industry

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 million in cash receipts in 1996. But production has steadily declined, especially since the 1996 closing of the Premium Pork processing
plant in Moultrie, Ga.

"Georgia producers now get $3 to $4 per hundredweight less for their 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., is exploring 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 counties have met vocal local opposition. Opponents of proposed 10,000- to 20,000-head hog farms argue that the farms'ΓΏ waste
would pollute local streams and groundwater supplies.

The proposed large-scale farms aren't related to the co-op's efforts to build a processing plant, McKissick said. In fact, the proposed farms would ship pigs out of the state, probably to
Midwestern states, to be grown to size for slaughter.

UGA engineer Mark Risse said such large farms carry a greater risk of catastrophic failure from
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 surface water and groundwater
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 odor," he 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 distances. They want the farms in some
other county, if not some other state. That's not good for farmers or the state's economy, McKissick
said.

"When you consider the uncertain future of some of our major products, 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- head level 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 plant," he said. "That's a level that can
be self-sustaining."

Interestingly, McKissick said expanding production to meet the needs 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.)

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