AgDM newsletter article, February 1997

Changes in how pork is produced

By Dennis DiPietre, leader, Swine Focus Team, Extension Commercial Agricultural Program, University of Missouri-Columbia

We can identify three distinct paradigms of pork production within the U.S. swine industry.

Pig producers

The first and oldest existing paradigm of swine production is the agrarian model or pig producer. Swine production of this type is characterized by its place in a diversified farming operation. It provides productive use of labor when crop labor demands are low. Also, farm produced grains are fed to hogs to add value when grain prices are low.

Outdoor, labor-intensive production methods often characterize this paradigm. Other attributes include:

Since they have limited knowledge of their farms basic production process due to limited records, they are unable to make informed changes to position their production system to create wealth. In addition, these producers are making a product for a commodity market that is gradually disappearing. Pig producers will not enjoy a profitable position in a twenty-first century industry.

Meat producers

A new class of producers has emerged that can be characterized as meat producers. These producers have mastered record keeping and can share detailed information regarding “cwt. out the door.” This group has arisen in response to a packer reward system that encourages leaner meat production. Their focus is on producing lean meat at least cost. This is a differentiated product assessed at the carcass level. Meat producers can quote their kill statistics as well as their cost of production within a few cents.

This is part of a second paradigm of production called the industrial model where labor is replaced with capital. It has brought about a systematic process that is specialized and throughput-oriented.  Specialization of production separates pork production from crop production and established pork as its own enterprise. As a result, steady gains have been made in production efficiency. These gains were made possible by using intensive management practices and by focusing on understanding the basic needs of the animal.

Attributes of this type of production are:

Unless packer pricing becomes more precisely aligned with the multi-attribute demand of final consumers of pork, meat producers will likely bring about a crisis that will force the industry to make this change. These producers, due to lean and carcass weight packer pricing incentives, will push efficiency to the point where quality becomes degraded. Their legacy will most likely be pale, soft, exudative pork; or tough, dry, but very lean pork. They have access to a market that will eventually pass away. As this happens, they will have the opportunity to become food producers.

Food producers

This third paradigm of post-industrial production is now emerging. This model will focus on producing a differentiated pork product within a highly controlled, responsive and flexible system of production. Distinct from the low cost commodity focus of the industrial paradigm, the post-industrial producer will target product characteristics that are multi dimensional and directly related to know tastes and preferences of final consumers. The focus changes from “least cost production of lean” to “cost and quality controlled production of food made from pork.”

Production in this paradigm broadens the notion of system to include the community in which production takes place. Long-term commitments to the community are part of the investment. Attributes of this system of production are:

Multi-goal quality attributes for products include food safety, shelf-life, texture, appearance (including color), taste, water-holding capacity, size of cut, tenderness etc. In addition, responsiveness to the changing demands of target customers is rapid. Executing effectively within this model requires high management/knowledge, high capital requirements, and relatively low labor.


|Ag Decision Maker Home Page|