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Pork Production: Background and Overview
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Background and Overview
Best Management Practices
Environmental Impacts
Building an EMS
Alternative Technologies
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Essential Links:

Ag 101 - Pork Production
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Profile of the Agricultural Chemical, Pesticide, and Fertilizer Industry
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This report is one in a series of volumes published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA...

Introduction to North America

Hernando de Soto is considered "the father of the American pork industry," bringing the first pigs to America when he landed in Tampa Bay, Fla., in 1539. As pig production quickly spread throughout the new colonies, America's pork industry was born. By 1660, the Pennsylvania colony had swine populations numbering in the thousands. As the century came to an end, the typical farmer owned four to five pigs, and anything his family did not use was sold as barreled pork.

Mass Production

Following the Revolutionary War, pioneers headed West bringing with them their indispensable pigs. As the Western herds grew, a significant need for processing facilities became obvious. As a result, packing plants began springing up in major cities.

When the refrigerated railroad car was introduced shortly after the Civil War, it revolutionized the meat industry. Slaughtering operations were moved to be nearer production areas and to the Midwest where ample amounts of feedgrains were produced.

The states of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Missouri held the top six spots in state ranking for many years, with Iowa still being the largest pork-producing state.

Modern Production

During the 1980s to 1990s, major technological advancements allowed pork production to grow in states previously not known for it. The most notable growth has been in North Carolina, which now holds the spot as the second largest pork-producing state.

Larger, more efficient operations started replacing the small family farm that could no longer produce swine profitably and the modern pork industry was born. While the number of operations has decreased, the number of animals has not.

The modern method for the majority of pork production occurs in enclosed buildings to protect animals from the weather, predators, and spread of disease while reducing the land needed to accommodate a large number of animals. Although this method enables farmers to significantly increase production efficiency while reducing labor, it has resulted in environmental challenges by producing larger and more concentrated amounts of animal waste.

Pigs today are bred and fed to be leaner than pigs of earlier times. Currently, pigs contain 50 percent less fat than pigs of the 1950s. The leaner pig is a direct result of technology in hog production as well as superior genetics. Pork production in the United States is a vital part of the economy. Nearly 19 billion pounds of pork were processed from about 97 million hogs in 2001. The economic impact of the industry on rural America is immense. Annual farm sales typically exceed $11 billion, while the retail value of pork sold to consumers reaches $38 billion each year.

Pork also provides employment well beyond the farm. The U.S. pork industry is responsible for more than $72 billion in total domestic economic activity. In addition, the pork industry supports more than 800,000 jobs and adds more than $27 billion of value to basic production inputs such as corn and soybeans.

There are approximately 85,760 pork operations today compared with nearly three million in the 1950s. Farms have grown in size; nearly 80 percent of the hogs are grown on farms, which produce 5,000 or more hogs per year. This move to modern production practices is a direct result of consumer demands for a lower or stable cost while still expecting a higher quality product from the pork industry. The cost of pork has moved very little in the past 50 years, while input costs for the producer has increased significantly.

Pork Products and Co-Products

Although pork is now the most widely consumed meat in the world, other products are yielded from processing a pig. Pork co-products used today include insulin for regulation of diabetes, valves for human heart surgery, suede for shoes and clothing, and gelatin for many food and non-food uses. In addition, swine by-products are used in water filters, insulation, rubber, antifreeze, certain plastics, floor waxes, crayons, chalk, adhesives, and fertilizers.

Manure is the largest co-product of swine production by volume. For more information about manure and manure-handling systems, please refer to the Manure Handling System section.

Taking Pigs to Market

Producers sell pigs on either a live-weight basis at terminal markets or auctions, or directly to packers on a live-weight or carcass-weight basis. Some producers use livestock exchanges or producer-owned marketing networks for price negotiation and transportation.

During the late 1800s, terminal markets, which handle sales and shipping of large quantities of agricultural produce and livestock, developed near slaughtering plants in major cities. Although these markets played a key role in development of the U.S. livestock industry, they account for less than one percent of all pigs sold today.

More than 70 percent of pigs produced in the United States are now sold in "carcass-merit" pricing systems. These systems operate where a portion of the pricing is determined by certain characteristics of the animal. In the near future, advanced measurement systems currently being researched will allow for premiums to be paid for carcasses with better flavor, more juiciness and more tender meat.

According the USDA, swine sales in the United States totaled $12.5 billion in 2001 with most of the swine being produced in North Carolina and the Midwestern and Plain states. Worldwide, China is by far the largest pork producer, producing nearly five times that of the United States. However, the United States still accounts for about 10 percent of the world's total supply.

Prices for Pigs

Price is typically determined by supply and demand, regardless of what marketing system is used. Historically, there have been no government subsidies to support low prices, although some direct government payments were made to smaller producers in 1999.

Pig prices will vary cyclically and seasonally. Cyclical variations are caused by the time lags related to biological productions. When prices are high, more sows are bred, resulting in more pigs produced. But these pigs will not reach market for about a year after conception. When they do reach market, prices decline due to the higher supply, resulting in a price cycle. Seasonal variation results from changes in production efficiency due to weather and seasonal variations, and by different demand levels.


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The Pork Production Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange
Contact email: abray@newmoa.org

Hub Last Updated: 3/18/2009