The agricultural landscape in America has changed dramatically over the past two generations. Growing knowledge, ongoing research and the adoption of technology have advanced modern pig farming methods. Despite the progress, the nostalgia attached to traditional farming and a rural way of life has led many to perceive the farming methods of the past as better. This simply is not true.

Farmers have adopted modern practices out of concern for animal well-being, food safety, and the environment based on sound science and input from agricultural experts. In fact, some pig diseases have even been eradicated. The health of pigs has improved greatly. Better food safety measures have led to a safer pork supply. Pig farmers have successfully applied lessons from the past into the development of better farming methods today. They will continue to be resourceful, innovative and responsible producers of food for generations to come.

A Complex Business

Raising pigs is a complex and dynamic business. Like many other industries, pig farming faces challenges that affect how farmers run their businesses.

Issues such as the economy, alternative energy, biofuels, and immigration are influencing the economics of the industry. For example, regulations for alternative fuel such as the production of ethanol for cars consume a significant portion of the U.S. corn crop every year. Corn is a major feed ingredient in livestock farming, so competition for corn has caused prices to spike significantly for pig farmers. This new demand for corn has required farmers to use other feed ingredients, such as wheat, barley, and dried distillers grain (a byproduct from ethanol production), to help offset the rising costs associated with feed while still meeting the nutritional needs of the pig. This is another example of how pork farmers are continuing to look for ways to produce safe, wholesome and economical pork for consumers.

Adverse crop conditions, extreme weather and increasing food and energy costs pose ongoing challenges to pig farmers. Balancing the business issues of farming with the responsibilities of animal care requires that farmers wear many hats. From agricultural economics and politics to business management and communication, today’s farmers confront a wide range of challenges. As professional businessmen, we are actively involved in the food production process, which has not always been the case.

Modern Pig Farming Snapshot

  • 67,000 Total U.S. Farms
  • 113 Million Total Pigs
  • 98% U.S. Pig Farms family owned
  • 63,000 Total Farmers
  • 23 Billion Pounds of U.S. Pork Produced
  • $13 Billion Farm Value of U.S. Pork (2012)
  • $34 Billion Market Value of U.S. Pork (2012 estimate)
  • 23.1% Exported
  • 50 States

Sources: Iowa Farm BureauPork Checkoff Quick Facts

Top 5 Challenging Agriculture Issues

Beyond their responsibilities to the animals, modern pig farmers face challenges that affect how they run their businesses.

  1. Price Of Corn – Increase of more than 250% since 2000
  2. Ethanol Production – Federal mandate will require as much as 40% of U.S. corn be used for ethanol
  3. Extreme Weather – The drought of 2012 and turbulent weather poses an ongoing threat to grains and livestock feed
  4. Gestation Stall Legislation – Extreme activism has resulted in costly legislation and added expense to farming.
  5. Export & Trade Issues – Maintaining access and trade to international markets is a priority.

Sources: University of IllinoisU.S. Energy Information Administration

Benefits Of Progress

Farmers’ commitment to continuously improve practices has resulted in better methods in many areas of farming. Learn more about how practices have evolved over time.


Old: Inconsistent: indoors and outdoors. Vulnerable to extreme weather, injury, predators and illness.

New: Indoors: protected from injury, illness and predators; comfortable temperatures year-round.

Health Management

Old: Treated pigs in response to disease and illness.

New: Many approaches to prevent, control and mitigate risk for animal illness and disease; better identification and treatment of individual sick animals.

Odor Control

Old: Few standardized methods to control odors.

New: Awareness and prevention such as dust management and vegetative windbreaks to mitigate the spread of farm odors; better manure management.


Old: Most farms farrow to finish – no specialty among farms.

New: Specialized farms that care for pigs at each life cycle stage.

Hog Characteristics

Old: Smaller, higher fat content: Avg. 200 pounds with 2.86 inches of back fat.

New: Larger and leaner: Avg. 270 pounds with 0.75 inches of back fat.


Old: Largely unregulated diet including grass, clover and even table scraps.

New: Strictly regimented rations including corn, wheat and soybean meal with added vitamins and minerals. Better administration of proper nutrition equitably distributed.

Nutrient Management

Old: Little manure containment and reuse; uncertain disposal.

New: Sophisticated systems to capture, control and use manure as fertilizer.