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Where have all the Pork Producers gone?

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:55 p.m. CDT

The Bureau County Pork Producers organization has been dwindling in membership for quite some time. While there used to be several hog farmers in the county — which translated to just as many Bureau County Pork Producer members, the number of hog farmers locally are dismal at best.

“I think we actually have two sow herds in Bureau County,” said Norm Von Holten of rural Sheffield, who started his hog operation in 1979 and recently sold his own operation in January. “There are a couple of guys who have the show pig herds — maybe a dozen or so sows.”

What remains are those farmers who are involved in finishing operations, and Von Holten said even those finishers have declined.

Rural Princeton resident Greg Steele had been involved with the hog business for years. He agreed with Von Holten about the number of hog operations in the county.

“I think there are six who actually own the pigs; the ones that farrow are less than that,” Steele said. While profits were good for hog farmers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Steele said he believes the problems started when the government allowed packers to have ownership of the hogs.

“Then the production center no longer had to show a profit; they just had to make a profit at the meat case. That changed the whole scope of the industry,” Steele said. “The packer owned the pigs, and they made their money putting hogs in the cooler. That changed the whole window, so people got out (of the hog business). They basically regulated us out of business.

“There’s no way unless you get the government to back down on the regulations, but you see, when it doesn’t affect the dollar in your pocket, it doesn’t make any difference,” Steele continued. “We are all going down the pipe because of government regulations and the threat of regulations. This story is so big; people don’t understand. The reality is this: They have totally lost focus.”

Steele said the reason the Bureau County Pork Producers died was “because there are very few family farms left to raise hogs. The change came when the government let the packers own the pigs. That took away the pigs from the family farm.”

Von Holten agreed with the family hog farm becoming obsolete.

“The maturing of the business drove down profit margins, where you could only extract small profits per animal, so to speak,” he said. “That kind of drives the individual family guy out of it. With a few hundred pigs, there’s not enough money for the individual market.”

Steele said he was at the meeting when the Bureau County Pork Producers decided to disband.

“Nobody had their head down; more than half the people on the board no longer have hogs. Nothing against Homestead, but we had done it long enough,” Steele said as he remembered a day when the members of the Bureau County Pork Producers were many. “It was always a fabulous environment. The camaraderie we had together was great. We worked on it for all these years, and the attitude was always outstanding.”

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