Final Report for LS99-106
Small-scale hog producers may be able to secure a place at the pork industry table by producing for niche markets. Selection emphasis should be placed on boars that sire market hogs containing more desirable pork color and higher levels of intra-muscular fat. Farmers may be able to market a “Porgue de Season” by feeding excess farm produce (i.e. cherries, pumpkins, acorns). With proper stocking rates and plot rotation, Integrated crop/animal systems may enable farmers to: 1) improve timber stands, 2) develop organic soils, and 3) utilize excess produce to develop a niche-market pork that is unique to that farm.
1. Examine potential for small-scale farmers to produce niche market pork using alternative diets, breeds and rearing environments.
2. Examine the potential for developing organic vegetable plots in rotation with swine raised on dirt lots in order to: a) monitor retention, accumulation and/or availability of N, P, K, Zn and Cu from swine waste mixed with leaf mulch vs. conventional dirt lot, and b) evaluate potential transfer of zoonotic diseases from swine waste with leaf mulch.
3. Examine two stocking rates of gestating sows (6/A and 18/A) in a forest environment to evaluate: a) reproductive performance of sows bred and gestating in a sylvan environment with those raised in conventional dirt lots, b) rooting behavior and manure deposition of swine on forest vegetation for enhancing growth in an existing stand or in preparation of a more marketable future stand, and c) effects of swine on survival, composition and condition of under-story and canopy vegetation.
4. Explore avenues to increase profitability by promoting the unique characteristics of the "pasture raised" product as well as the small farmer production system.
Small farmers as an endangered species: The North Carolina Swine Industry provides 23% of the State's Agricultural receipts (> $2b) and currently ranks second in number of hogs produced nationally. During the past twenty years the swine population (>9 million) has quadrupled while the number of hog farms has decreased from <23,000 to >3400. Currently, over 95% of the hogs produced in NC are from farms with inventories of over 2000 head, yet 47% of the swine operations maintain less than 100 hogs and pigs.
The traditional, small, independent producers in the Southeast are being replaced with contract farmers who collaborate with the large vertically integrated corporate farms. The main advantage of contract farming is that producers may expect to receive a set price for their hogs (regardless of price fluctuations) during the contract period, typically lasting one year. Contract growers, however, may incur considerable debt load with little assurance of an extended contract. The "get big or get out" trend does not consider the real costs of "economic progress". This perspective does not take into account 1) the loss of market competition, 2) lack of genetic diversity, 3) reliance on fossil fuels and sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics, and 4) potential environmental consequences (USDA, 1998).
Confinement operations have heightened public concern about the potential health risks posed by managing waste in large anaerobic lagoons. Current legislation includes initiatives to phase out anaerobic lagoons in 10 years. The North Carolina legislature and other State organizations are proactively addressing the issues of animal waste management with new regulations and stricter enforcement to ensure farmer compliance. With the new regulations, even limited resource swine producers will need to change their current practices in order to maintain a balance of nutrient inputs and outputs, assure optimum ground water quality and protect against non-point pollution from swine waste runoff. Based on NC Senate Bill 1217, (passed 2/18/97) farmers keeping hogs on dirt lots must rotate them annually onto another lot and harvest the vegetation grown after the hogs are removed. Farmers will need to change their current practice of raising pigs on dirt lot to avoid accumulation of excess nutrients in one area and comply with non-discharge regulations. Limited resource swine farmers will continue to abandon raising hogs if they don’t perceive there are alternative, low cost and profitable options to their current practices.
Integrated crop and sylvan systems with swine: Farmers may be able to implement those practices that enhance environmental stewardship and increase overall income/acre by complying with the new State regulations. For example, cropland is more productive when the cropping system includes an adequate rotation schedule. By rotating the animal and crop sections, buildup of nutrients from the swine manure may reduce the need for inorganic fertilizer amendments and excessive tillage. A mulch/crop-residue bedding may improve both crop and animal systems by reducing: 1) labor and mechanization requirements for composting and tilling 2) runoff of waste nutrients and soil, and 3) parasite load by providing a drier environment from the mulch bedding. Soil infiltration and structure may be improved by the mixing action of an organic source into the soil by the animal’s hooves.
Rooting behavior may be useful in helping to re-establish unmarketable woodlands. An agro-forestry system with swine may promote regeneration (through scarification) of a new timber stand, or enhance tree growth in an existing one by improving soil fertility and characteristics. Tree growth response or destruction may depend on animal stocking rates. By moving sows to new sylvan lots every 3-5 yr, farmers may gradually improve their existing, non-marketable timber stands with seedlings of higher market value.
Sows raised in a sylvan environment during the hot, humid NC summers may be more productive than those raised in a conventional dirt lot environment. Heat stress has been shown to decrease estrus activity, fertility, ova implantation and overall reproductive efficiency of the sow (Pond et al., 1991). Swine evolved in a sylvan environment and the cooler temperature provided by a natural canopy may aid in thermoregulation during the summer months.
For generations, swine have been raised in the woods or have had access to wooded lots. In some European areas, swine purposely harvest various fruits and nuts under trees to provide a unique flavor in the meat. In Spain, over one million indigenous Iberian hogs are finished under native oak trees (2 hogs/ha) and sold at a premium price of five times the commercial hog price (personal conversations with Dr. Gregorio Silva, Asociacion Interprofesional del Cerdo Iberico, Banesto, Spain). There are no references regarding managed studies of swine in a sylvan ecosystem to improve an existing stand or help to establish a more marketable one. Tamworth pigs were introduced into an “Old English Forest” to control undesirable undergrowth and to aerate and fertilize the soil.
The other red meat: a new paradigm for small-scale producers. The Pork Industry, Land Grant Universities and Research Stations have done an excellent job in developing and promoting animal efficiency and productivity by optimizing the housing environment and identifying diets and breeds of hogs to suit confinement rearing. As a result the method of raising hogs has changed dramatically over the last twenty-five years, as well as the focus on lean conformation of the finished hog. As a consequence, there is some indication that the taste has been bred out of today's hog. In a gourmet publication, The Art of Eating , Ed Behr (1999) suggests that "the lean (corporate pork) meat is almost impossible to cook without making it dry and tough; the flavor is bland, so the texture stands out”. Similar to the Certified Angus Beef program (a breed noted for intra-muscular fat) small farmers can promote a different "upscale" pork by using breeds that will focus on pork taste exclusively and feeding diets (possibly apart from corn and soybeans) to enhance flavor. Tamworths are a minor breed and were considered for this experiment because they are noted for their foraging ability; they also have excellent maternal ability for application in extensive rearing systems (Porter, 1993). Durocs were used as the terminal cross sires. The Duroc breed is recognized for transferring intramuscular fat (IMF) levels, which are considered important for producing “upscale pork” for the Japanese markets (Suzuki et al., 2003).
1.Behr, E. 1999; "The Lost Taste of Pork: Finding a Place for the Iowa Family Farm"; The Art of Eating. vol 51.
2.De Vol, D.L., F.K. McKeith, P.J. Bechtel, J. Novakoski, R.D. Shanks, T.R. Carr. 1988. Variation in composition and palatability traits and relationships between muscle characteristics and palatability in a random sample of pork carcasses. Journal of Animal Science. 69 (12):4858-4865.
3. Pond, W.G, J. Maner and D. Harris. 1991. Pork Production Systems. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York.
4. Porter, V. 1993. Pigs: A handbook to the breeds of the world. Comstock Pub. Assoc. Ithaca, NY.
5.Suzuki, K., T. Shibita, H. Kadowaki, H. Abe and T. Toyoshima. 2003. Meat quality comparison of Berkshire, Duroc and crossbred pigs sired by Berkshire and Duroc. Meat Science. 64:35-42.
6.USDA. 1998. A Time to Act: A Report of the USDA National Commission on Small Farms. Pub. #1545. Washington D.C.
Abstract from Objective 1: Potential for Small-Scale Farmers to Produce Niche Market Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments: Observations from North Carolina. C. Talbott, M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, NC A&T SU; T. See, NCSU; and G. Gunthorp, IN Hog Producer; P. Willis, President, Niman Ranch Pork Co. (Submitted to the American J. Alternative Ag.; see appendix). With the extensive focus on lean conformation in the finished hog over the last twenty-five years, there is some indication that pork quality has suffered and taste has been bred out of today's pork. Similar to the Certified Angus Beef program (a breed noted for intra-muscular fat) small-scale farmers can promote a different "upscale" pork by using breeds that will focus on pork taste exclusively and feeding diets (possibly apart from corn and soybeans) to enhance flavor. Two experiments were devised to examine the influence of breeds, rearing environment and diet on pork quality and flavor. In Trial 1, three sow breed groups (Tamworth, Tamworth x Landrace, or Hampshire x Landrace) were mated to Duroc boars. Littermates (ninety-one pigs total) were randomly assigned at weaning to one of three treatments: 1) confinement, 2) dry-lot, 3) pasture. All pigs were fed a 16% ad-libitum grow-finish ration with pasture pigs allowed access to plots consisting of predominately white and crimson clovers with warm season grasses (Bermuda grass and crab grass). Hampshire crosses had higher Minolta L* scores. Pork quality was similar across rearing environments except for lower initial pH levels observed in pastured systems and higher drip-loss % recorded in both outdoor systems. In Trial 2, 42 Tamworth x Duroc littermates were randomly assigned to one of two rearing environments (confinement or pasture) at 55 kg and fed ad-lib 14%. Pigs finishing on pasture had access to standing, mature barley. Pork from pastured systems was darker than confinement reared pork. No differences were observed in sensory evaluation of the pork for the rearing environments examined. For both trials, intramuscular fat levels (<2%) and color scores were too low to be considered for “upscale” markets. Alternative diets to produce niche-market pork are unlikely to influence flavor with out adequate levels of marbling. Abstract from Objective 2: Nutrient dynamics in integrated animal and cropping systems. Mani Matlapudi., G.B. Reddy, C. Rackzowsky and C. Talbott. Soil nutrient concentrations increase when hogs are raised continuously in dirt lots for years. Application of swine manure to cropland is one of the most obvious methods of recycling plant nutrients. By integrating animal and cropping systems, farmers may be able to develop organic soils by utilizing the rooting behavior of the hogs to incorporate their manure into a mulch. An experiment was established in Summer 2000 for two years at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University research farm on and Enon Sandy loam (Fine, Mixed Thermic Ultic Hapludalf) soil. Six gestating sows were maintained on four different treatment plots measuring 20m x 20m in a randomized complete block design. Treatments included plots with: 1) leaves and no pigs, 2) leaves with pigs, 3) no leaves and no pigs and 4) no leaves with pigs. Soil samples were collected in years 2000 and 2002 at planting and at harvest at depth increments of 0-15 cm, 15-30 cm and 30-60 cm. Samples were analyzed for soil NO3--N, inorganic N, PO4, Total P, organic matter, total C, total N, C:N, and CEC. Plant samples were collected in both years for Corn Dry matter Yield and N Biomass. Fertilizer was applied to plots without pigs so that the crop was not deficient in nutrients. Plots with pigs had a significant increase in NO3--N, Inorganic N and PO4 concentrations. The concentrations decreased after plant uptake in the years 2000 and 2001. Soil samples were also analyzed for Phosphatase and Dehydrogenase enzymes, total microbial count and for types of microorganisms present using PCR. (manuscript is in progress) Abstract for Objective 2 (cont.) Soil Physical Properties (C. Raczowsky): Soil physical properties were measured on October 1, 2002 to evaluate the effects of pigs and leaf mulch on soil structure and overall soil quality. Measurements included soil bulk density, mean particle density, field capacity, permanent wilting point, plant available water holding capacity, macroporosity, microporosity and total porosity. Soil water characteristic curves were used to determine all parameters except bulk density and particle density. Soil depths samples were 0 – 10 cm and 10 – 20 cm. Results from the analysis of variance are shown in table 1. In general, a significant mulch x pig interaction was found for field capacity and plant available water. The mulch effect was significant for bulk density, particle density, permanent wilting point and macroporosity. A non-significant pig effect was obtained in every analysis. As expected, bulk density and particle density decreased with the use of mulch (table 2). Mulch use also increased the permanent wilting point and the soil macropore space. The soil total porosity remained unchanged suggesting that the macropore space increase resulted at the expense of micropore space. A decrease in plant available water occurred with leaf mulch under the absence of pigs. Conversely, plant available water increased with the use of mulch in the presence of pigs. The field capacity data follows the same differential trend. This differential response most likely relates to differences in organic matter build-up among environments. The abundance of nitrogen in the pig environment favors the rapid decomposition of leaf mulch into organic matter thus water retention increases. Conversely, the build-up of leaf material in the absence of pigs seems to decrease the ability of soil to retain water. (manuscript is in progress) Abstract from Objective 3: Performance and Environmental Impact of Sows Gestating in Sylvan Systems. C. Talbott, C. Couch and T. Barius, NCA&TSU; A. Coffee, USDA Forestry; J. Andrews, NRCS Forestry. Swine evolved in sylvan environments where cooler temperatures provided by a natural canopy aided in thermoregulation during the summer months. In some European areas, swine purposely harvest various fruits and nuts under trees to provide a unique flavor in the meat. Twenty-four gestating sows were randomly assigned to one of six 75’ x 275’ wooded plots (1/3A) or one of four 120’x100’ dirt-lots for 6 month periods (April 1 to September 31) during 2000 and 2001. Sows were maintained in groups of 12 (six per mating/gestating environment) and moved to outdoor farrowing huts one week prior to farrowing. Five, 10 m radius areas were surveyed (inches diameter breast high, DBH, basal area, % canopy) for species variation and prevalence of timber stand and growth, and ground cover vegetation. Although there were no differences in sow performance, sows in the wooded environment tended to have more pigs born alive and weaned than those in the dirt-lot treatment. Tree growth was adjusted for the “put and take” stocking rates into the plots. No differences were observed in tree growth diameter. Sows girdled (scratched or marked) inner bark of softwoods and elms. Preliminary results suggest that sylvo-pastoral systems with swine may improve hardwood stands by reducing softwood competition. (manuscript is in progress) Results and Discussion/Milestones for Objective 4: Each year, The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) holds a Sustainable Ag. Conference that typically has over 500 in attendance. For the past three years, our SARE Grant has provided funding to highlight key (small-scale) producers from around the country. In 1999, Greg and Leigh Gunthorpe ("Pastured Pigs"/Farm to Market Business in IN and project collaborators) spoke to producers at the Annual Conference of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) about selling value added "family farm" pork. Unlike the Gunthorpes, most farmers prefer raising livestock and growing crops to sitting in markets and selling to a scrutinizing public. For the 2000 conference, Mr. Paul Willis (Small-scale Hog Producer and President of the Niman Ranch Pork Company) spoke to the attendees at the CFSA conference (as well as to area farmer groups) about raising upscale pork for the Niman Ranch Inc. The Commissioner of Agriculture for NC, Meg Scott Phipps, has endorsed the efforts of Mr. Willis and the potential marketing opportunities for NC small-scale producers (letter to C. Talbott, 3/25/2001). In 2002 Dr. John McGlone (Texas Tech Univ. at Lubbock, TX) spoke on a "New Vision for Animal Systems" and presented his work from the Sustainable Pork Institute. Dr. McGlone and his Pork Institute Program are recognized nationally and internationally for work documenting alternative and sustainable hog systems (see SAREresultsT.ppt for overview of project). Funded by our current SARE project, NC small-scale producers and group leaders visited eight farms in the Mid-West (October, 2001) and talked with producer/members of the Niman Ranch Pork Co. The group was made up of: three producers, one former producer, one extension agent (Jeff Copeland of Perquimans Co.), one group leader (Mr. Johnnie Jones of the NC Coalition of Small Farms) and the project coordinator (C. Talbott). The group was able to gain insight into building designs, infrastructure and methods used for raising hogs in alternative systems for niche markets. A pictorial documentation of the trip enables the NC producers, Extension Agents and Group Leaders to show alternative hog systems to other potential producers (see IAtrip.SARE.ppt).
Educational & Outreach Activities
1.Talbott, C., M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, NC A&T SU; T. See, NCSU; and G. Gunthorp, IN Hog Producer; P. Willis, President, Niman Ranch Pork Co. Potential for Small-Scale Farmers to Produce Niche Market Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments: Observations from North Carolina. (Submitted to J. Alternative Ag.)
2.Talbott, C., C. Couch and T. Barius, NCA&TSU; A. Coffee, USDA Forestry; J. Andrews, NRCS Forestry. Performance and Environmental Impact of Sows Gestating in Sylvan Systems. (Submitting to J. Alternative Ag.)
3.Bently, T. and C. Talbott. 2002. "Breed, Environment and Technician Effects on Pork Quality Assessment", In Proceedings of the Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science. 1/31-2/03/02. Tallahassee FL.
4.Talbott, C., 2002. Upscale Pork Markets for Small-Scale Hog Producers. In The North Carolina Geographer. 10:54:58.
5.Talbott, C., M. Ahmedna, M. Jones, H. Fennell and T. See. 2003. Potential to Produce Upscale Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments. (Abstract). in Expanding the Vision, Impacting the Future. Thirteenth Biennial Research Symposium Atlanta GA. Page 104.
Papers presented* at professional meetings:
1.Talbott, C*., M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, NC A&T SU; T. See, NCSU; A. Coffee and J. Andrews, USDA/NCDA Forestry; and G. Gunthorp, IN Hog Producer. 2003. Potential to Produce Upscale Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments. (Abstract). In ARD 2003 Research Symposium. March 29 – April 2, 2003.
2.Talbott, C*. “Integrated Sylvan and Crop Systems with Swine: a State and National Initiative. C. W. Talbott, M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, T. See. Paper presented at the 2002 CFSA Conference. November 15-17, 2002. Boone, NC.
3.Talbott, C*., G. B. Reddy, C Raczkowsky, Mani Matlapudi. “Integrating Hogs into the Organic Farm/Garden” Organic Growers School, March 15, 2003. Flat Rock, NC
4.Talbott, C*., G. B. Reddy, C Raczkowsky, Mani Matlapudi. “Pastured Pigs” High Country Organic Growers School. March 22, 2003. Boone, NC.
5.Talbott, C*., M. Ahmedna, T. See, G. B. Reddy, C Raczkowsky, Mani Matapoldi. " Upscale Pork Markets for Small Scale Hog Producers". CFSA Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference. Rock Hill SC. 11/02/2002.
6.Talbott, C*. “Upscale Pork Markets for Small Scale Hog Producers”. The Virginia Biological Food Growers Conference (2/9/02). Front Royal VA.
7.Talbott*, C. “Upscale Pork Markets for Small Scale Hog Producers”. Golden LEAF Symposium held in Greenville, NC entitled "Curing the Future" (2/28/02).
8.Talbott, C*. “Upscale pork for small-scale producers.” Southern Region CFSA Conference, Clemson University. 12/7/2002.
9.Talbott, C*. “Integrated Sylvan and Crop Systems with Swine: Year 1. C. W.
10.Talbott, M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, T. See. Paper presented at the Annual CFSA Conference. November, 2000. High Point, NC.
11.Gunthorp, G.*. Farm to Market Opportunities for Small-Scale Hog Farmers. Paper presented at the 2000 CFSA Conference. November, 2000. High Point, NC.
12.Talbott, C*. “Integrated Sylvan and Crop Systems with Swine: Year 2. C. W.
13.Talbott, M. Ahmedna, T. See. Paper presented at the 2001 CFSA Conference. November, 2001. Wilmington, NC.
14.Willis, P.* Niman Ranch Pork Co. Paper presented at the 2001 CFSA Conference. November, 2001. Wilmington, NC.
15.Talbott, C*. Integrated Crop and Sylvan Systems with Swine: A State and National Initiative. Southern Sustainable Ag. Workers Conference, Chattanooga TN. 1/'01.
16.Talbott, C*. “Integrated Sylvan and Crop Systems with Swine: Year 3. C. W. Talbott, M. Ahmedna, T. See, H. Fennell. Paper presented at the 2002 CFSA Conference. November, 2002. Rock Hill SC. 11/02-11/03.
17.McGlone, J. "New Vision for Animal Systems". Paper presented at the 2002 CFSA Conference. November, 2002. Rock Hill SC. 11/02-11/03.
1.Talbott, C., M. Ahmedna, H. Fennell, NC A&T SU; T. See, NCSU; and G. Gunthorp, IN Hog Producer; P. Willis, President, Niman Ranch Pork Co. Potential for Small-Scale Farmers to Produce Niche Market Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments: Observations from North Carolina. Poster presented at 2002 “On The Road” SARE Conference. Oct. 23-26, 2001.
2.Talbott, C., C. Couch and T. Barius, NCA&TSU; A. Coffee, USDA Forestry; J. Andrews, NRCS Forestry. Performance and Environmental Impact of Sows Gestating in Sylvan Systems. Poster presented at 2002 “On The Road” SARE Conference. Oct. 23-26, 2002.
3.Talbott, C. Potential for Small-Scale Farmers to Produce Niche Market Pork Using Alternative Diets, Breeds and Rearing Environments: Observations from North Carolina. Poster presented at 2002 Carolina Farm Show. Oct. 3-5, 2002. Kinston NC.
1.On July 17th 2001, NC A&T SU and The NC Cooperative Extension Service hosted a small scale hog producer conference (co-sponsored by SARE) attended by over 80 participants comprised of producers/farmers (>40), Fed and State Government officials (both Democratic and Republican candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture spoke on behalf of small farms), representatives of agribusiness, and those associated with academia, etc. The main objectives of this conference were to: 1) stress the important and unique contribution small farmers may play in providing food now and in the future, 2) use this uniqueness to position small scale producers profitably, and 3) develop a strategy to “keep the family farm and find the lost taste of pork”
2. Golden LEAF Field Day July 18, 2002. Attended by 62 participants (farmers and public) to participate in "upscale pork" sensory evaluation. (see appendix)
3.SARE and Golden LEAF Training Session. “On The Road Tour” Bus # 10. October 25, 2002. 18 farmers/ 55 on tour sample “upscale pork” (see appendix)
4.A&T “Research on Wheels” tour of Wade Cole’s Small-Scale Hog Farm. March 27, 2003. 32 farmers/35 extension, press, etc.
In less than two generations, “we” (society) have basically forgotten the important relationship that crops and animals formerly held in sustaining total farm productivity and profitability. “We” have essentially replaced dynamic farming systems with megalopolis size animal units and bio-diversity with mono-culture. “We” have moved from an agrarian/rural society (30% of the population associated with agriculture to <2%). With that alone, we endanger our National Food Security by losing the knowledge base of those farmers who understand the complete biological cycle of the sow, and ability to raise a piglet to a market hog. However, results and recognition from this project has given direction and hope to re-vitalizing a once vibrant small-scale hog industry in NC and nationally. Paul Willis has invited NC producers to join The Niman Ranch Pork Co. (a 51% farmer owned cooperative consisting of 200 producers from the Midwest and currently 15 from NC!). The first Niman Ranch Pork produced from NC farmers was processed in December 2002. Niman Pork appeals to “upscale” markets and distinguishes its pork by promoting 1) pork quality, 2) animal well being, 3) alternative feeding programs (no antibiotics, no animal protein, no growth promotents), and 4) small family farms. The outcome from the above cited research (objectives 1-3) has established the ground work for future participatory research with farmers and researchers. Over the last two years, The Golden LEAF Foundation and Heifer Project International have contributed over $500,000 to assist NC A&T SU in identifying alternative small-scale systems for niche market pork. A graduate student from A&T is currently inseminating HPI pass-on gilts with three genetic lines (two Duroc and one Berkshire) of boars noted for improving intra-muscular fat ( in collaboration with Rick Pfortmiller of the National Swine Registry and Dr. T. See of NCSU). The Golden LEAF/HPI/SARE project is currently collecting data from participating farmers in production (A&T), economic (Dr. Egemakor of A&T), environmental (A&T and NC Cooperative Extension and NCDA), and swine/farmer health (Drs. Gybreyes, Morrow and Roberts; NCSU Vet. School). Each farmer has different challenges (drainage, William Cole), opportunities and assets (access to sweet potatoes, R and M. Wright); farm plans are individualized to the farmer’s goals and based on animal and environmental enhancement (see Glrecspics2d.doc). With the residual funds from our SARE Grant ($40K), small non-Golden LEAF producers may apply for assistance to develop their own alternative hog systems. Modeled after SARE producer grants, four farmers have submitted applications (see appendix) and are anxiously waiting for me to submit this report for funding.
First market hogs were sold in December 2002. Cost of production and cost benefit information is currently being collected.
Until recently, prospects for producing, processing and marketing hogs for small-scale producers in North Carolina have been bleak. However, Niman Ranch Inc., a nationally recognized and very successful retailer of upscale meats, is contracting small-scale hog producers in NC to serve their East Coast Markets. Niman Ranch already has two distribution centers, (one in California and one in the Midwest) which buy from small-scale farmers (The Niman Ranch Pork Co.). Currently there are 200 small-scale producers from the Mid-West and 15 from NC that produce pork in compliance with their own high quality standards (each loin has a number that can be traced back to the producer) and maintain animals in accordance with the Animal Welfare Institute. With the preponderance of slaughter facilities connected with contract growers, identifying a processor that will work with small producers has been a major hurdle. Niman Ranch Pork Co. is working with a USDA Federally Inspected Plant (Vilari Bros.) in Warsaw, NC. This potential market (with Industry collaboration) represents a major step for encouraging small-scale farmers to consider alternative methods of producing pork in NC. As of March ’03, seven NC farmers have sold over $80,000 worth of pork to Niman Ranch Pork Co. With funding support from the Golden LEAF Foundation and Heifer Project International, we have had over 80 applications from farmers who are interested in joining our project. Farmers are required to keep production and expense records and participate with on-farm research. (see farmer profile, appendix).
Areas needing additional study
Based on the results of this grant, a proposal will be submitted to SARE this June to examine the potential to increase (loin muscle) IMF and pork quality by introducing breeds and breed combinations noted for enhancing these traits. Collaboration with other Universities will help to validate these efforts and strengthen the communication between farmers and researchers working in alternative systems for hogs.