The Development of Pasture-Based Swine Production Systems for Limited Resource Farms in the Mississippi Delta

1995 Annual Report for LS95-067

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $274,412.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $68,852.00
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Bryant Stephens
AK Land & Farm Development Corp.

The Development of Pasture-Based Swine Production Systems for Limited Resource Farms in the Mississippi Delta


Agriculture in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas is dominated by traditional row crops such as cotton, rice, and soybeans that are produced on large-scale farms. Therefore, this demonstration-education project was designed to provide technical-assistance to aid limited-resource farmers interested in adopting a pasture-based swine management (PBSM) system. Pasture-based systems or outdoor systems, offer a relatively low-cost alternative to conventional systems, therefore, are appropriate for limited-resource farmers in the Delta.

1) Design and develop an effective training system for pasture-based swine production.
2 ) Provide training and technical assistance to limited-resource farmers to increase the adoption rate of pasture-based swine production in the Mississippi Delta region.
3) assess the market potential for pasture-raised pork in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas.
4) identify perception and acceptance of pasture-raised pork among consumers in the Mississippi Delta region of Arkansas.
5) assess the economic and social impact of pasture-based swine production in the Mississippi Delta region.

In the first year, the major focus of the project was the establishment of a community-based demonstration site where farmers could visit to learn how to set up and operate PBSM systems. This site was constructed on land operated by the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation in September 1996. Throughout the project, presentations at ALFDC conferences, field days, and tours of the ALFDC demonstration site have provided technical information for farmers and increased the community awareness of low-cost, sustainable methods of producing pork.

To increase the scope of the community-based training and demonstration program, two private farmers in 1997 and four in 1998 were selected to serve as farmer-trainers to assist in the training of other farmers in their communities interested in PBSM systems. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was also selected in 1998 to build a PBSM demonstration site to serve farmers in the southern region of Arkansas.

Paraprofessional Training: Technical support staff evaluated farm sites and developed pasture layout plan for each farmer. Several informal workshops were conducted at the ALFDC demonstration site to provide farmers with hands-on experience in constructing farrowing huts with electrical fencing and pastures. Because each of these farms are small-scale based on industry standards, a specific management plan was provided to encourage cooperation among farmers and uniformity in management. Farmers were visited frequently to provide assistance and assess their development progress in the PBSM systems. Periodically, meetings of the farmer-trainers were held at the ALFDC so they could discuss among themselves problems and strategies for solving individual problems.

Market research was conducted during 1998 by Arkansas State University to determine consumer perception and preferences for pasture-raised pork. A mail questionnaire was designed and sent to a sample population that was randomly selected from 1,200 consumers, 42 supermarkets and restaurants located in 12 agricultural districts in the Delta region of Arkansas and the cities of Little Rock and Memphis, TN.

Using the USDA Forest Service computer-based IMPLAN (Impact Modeling and Planning) system that is capable of estimating regional and county level data on inter-firm and industry economic impact, the market survey estimated the direct, indirect, and induced effects of pasture-raised pork operations and value-added activities of a prospective limited-resource farmer on the economy of the Delta area of Arkansas. Data used for the analysis was based on projected pork production and value-added activities of a single farmer and 1997 industrial relationship data of twelve a districts selected from the Delta area of Arkansas.

The ALFDC demonstration site has been a valuable resource not only to train farmers but to demonstrate that a PBSM system can be constructed and operated using resources available in the Delta. Furthermore, the ALFDC demonstration site has allowed the technical support group to acquire management techniques and information that can be passed on to farmers thus preventing them from making costly mistakes.

Six farmers were selected to establish PBSM systems and to serve as farmer-trainers. In addition, another demonstration site was developed at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff The establishment of these farms has increased the scope of the community-based training program and awareness of how to produce pork using low-cost, sustainable methods. Production data generated from all farms will be summarized and used in developing educational materials for limited-resource farmers.

Market survey results. The results of this survey indicated the existence of a market niche for pasture-raised pork products among urban consumers. About 39% of the consumers in rural agricultural districts in Arkansas and almost 70% of urban consumers who responded to the survey showed preference for “environmentally friendly” pork products over conventional ones. Over 73% of the surveyed population identified pasture-raised pork as natural and healthy. Sixty-five percent of retailers surveyed preferred to sell locally and organically grown meat products if available at premium prices.

The IMPLAN analysis estimated the total output produced by other sectors in the Delta to support a small-scale (producing 240 market hogs annually) pasture-raised pork operation. Results indicated that for each dollar of output directly produced by a swine farmer, there will be $2.17 of further output and activities created, and for each person directly employed within the sector there will be 2.45 people employed in the Delta economy through indirect and induced effects.

Impact of Results
Technical assistance and training programs. Funding for this project has helped fill a technical assistance gap in the Delta by providing technical information and assistance to limited-resource farmers interested in PBSM systems. Furthermore, limited-resource farmers now have the means of obtaining information about PBSM not only from the ALFDC and ASU, but from fellow farmers that were involved in this project. The cooperative efforts of the ALFDC, ASU, UAPB, and farmer-trainers have allowed the development of a community-based technical assistance program. Furthermore, farmer-to-farmer networking that is developing will enable farmers to become less dependent on the technical staff for advice and problem solving.

Market survey and cost-benefit analysis. This market survey did not provide cost-benefit analysis information to help prospective farmers determine the minimum number of hogs, acreage, methods, and inputs needed to viably evaluate the potential of the alternative pasture-raised pork production practices. However, it has provided the baseline information about consumers concerns, preferences and extent of market that exists for these products in the Delta area. The research has also provided the market window analysis for prospective limited-resource farmers to evaluate potential profitability and important market information and risk assessment necessary for them to confidently consider expanding or diversifying beyond the demonstration level and further incorporating a transition to sustainable practices into their farm operations.

More important than the increase in farm income and employment is the increased economic activity in rural economies of the Delta area that would support services and improve the quality of life available to farm and non-farm families. The pasture-raised pork operations would require services from direct supporting industries such as utilities, transportation, packing, production equipment, etc. A relatively high proportion of production cost would go to labor and local resources, generating a significant demand for consumer goods and services in the Delta region. Furthermore, increased profitability of production and marketing, combined with support and secondary activities, would generate a rural equity and tax base to support education and local government services.

December 1998.


Tom Jessup

Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation
Office Phone: 8707341140
Paul Armah

Agri. Business, Arkansas State University
Office Phone: 8709722087
Lew Brinkley

Agri. Business, Arkansas State University
Office Phone: 8709722087
Henry English

Agricultural Econ., U. of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Office Phone: 8705438142
Donald Kennedy

Animal Science, Arkansas State University
Office Phone: 8709722087