The number of hogs and pigs in North Dakota is at its lowest levels since the late 1800s, due in large part to the shift from many small, diversified farms towards fewer, larger facilities and the rise in feed prices which has led many operations to ship pigs out of state for finishing.
According to the state's Department of Agriculture, North Dakota's hog and pig inventory is at 143,000 animals, down 12,000 from last year. The North Dakota Pork Council has estimated the number of swine producers in the state at 275, down roughly 150 from four years ago. "Whenever we had a lot more small, diversified farms in North Dakota, we had a lot more hogs in North Dakota," said David Newman, the swine specialist for the North Dakota State University Extension Service."In the times of small family farms, everybody owned a pig. Granted, there weren't a million people in North Dakota back then, either, but there were just a lot more producers who had hogs around."
The increased cost of corn, a staple in swine diets, has also caused many producers to shift gears to farrowing operations that send their pigs out of state for fattening to slaughter weight. "A great deal of pigs that are born in North Dakota end up being counted in the production in other states," said Newman.
In spite of recent declines, Newman said he sees a possible upswing on the horizon for the North Dakota hog and pig industry due to an increase in research for feed alternatives to corn and a focus on educating the next generation of potential farmers. "I think we will see pork production increase in the next decade in North Dakota," he said. "In terms of size and scale, I think there is going to be a place in that same time period for small, diversified farmers to get into the business."