Large-scale swine operations have varied economic and social effects on counties where they are based, a University of Nebraska study shows.

This research shows the effect of rapidly-expanding swine operations on counties "isn't as clear cut as we expected," said John Allen, the NU Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources rural sociologist who supervised the study. "It is a mixed picture. It isn't either all bad or all good."

The study explored pork production in 36 counties in six states, including Nebraska, by examining a 15-year period. Allen said he designed the study after county commissioners, producers and rural citizens asked him how large-scale swine operations affect rural counties. The study defined large swine operations as those with 1,000 head or more. Other states studied were Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and North Carolina.

"There were a lot of myths going around that if you had a hog confinement facility, it was either going to add to the local economy or it was going to destroy the local economy," he said.

Allen conducted the study with David Drozd, an agricultural economics graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Overall, the multi-state study dispelled the authors' hypotheses that large swine operations would hurt local areas by reducing retail sales, lowering incomes, increasing poverty and driving some hog producers out of business.

With help from scientific and agricultural departments in other states, researchers compared counties with stable pork production to similar counties where production significantly expanded.

They found that retail sales remained competitive in areas with large-scale swine production. They also found per capita incomes increased and poverty decreased faster in these counties. However, counties with large-scale swine operations lost more population and had higher property taxes than stable production counties.

Large, rapidly-expanding swine operations had mixed effects on the number of farm jobs, the study found. As hog inventories rose, the number of farm jobs fell. All counties studied lost farm jobs during the 15-year period, but counties with large-scale pork operations lost farm jobs more slowly. Similarly, all counties lost swine operations , but counties with expanded pork production lost operations more slowly.

For the study's purposes, the researcher assumed enhancing per capita income, retail sales and the number of retail establishments was desirable. Reducing poverty and per capita property taxes, maintaining population and the number of both farm jobs and hog operations also were considered desirable. These factors have been shown to enhance an area's quality of life, Allen said.

Dramatic growth in the number of large swine production facilities began in North Carolina and Colorado in the early 1990s. In Iowa, Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska, swine confinement operations started in the late 70s and expanded rapidly during the 80s. During the 90s, very large "mega" hog operations moved into these states and have continued to expand, Allen said.

The pace of change in Nebraska' swine industry has been slower and the scale of operations is smaller than in other states studied, Allen said.

Overall, trends clearly indicate that the number of large-scale operations is growing and the number of smaller operations with fewer than 500 head is falling. For example, Missouri lost nearly 60% of swine operations between 1988 and 1996, the highest percentage change among states studied. During the same period, the number of Nebraska hog operations declined 36%, the least dramatic change among the six states.

Nebraksa' s Initiative 300 may have been a factor, Allen said. The state constitutional amendment restricts corporate farming or ranching to family farm corporations.

In 1988, 38.7% of Nebraska hogs were produced in operations of 1,000 heard-plus; that number grew to 54% by 1996. During the same period, the percentages in Missouri jumped from nearly 27% to 74%.

The study shows socio-economic tradeoffs policy-makers can weigh in making zoning and other decisions based on facts, not predictions, Allen said. For example, county officials can debate whether they are willing to lose population in order for incomes to rise.

It also provides a starting point for further research, especially at the community level, he said. For example, the study shows per capita property taxes increased overall in counties with expanding swine production, but didn't find the exact reason for the increase.

"Was it because of the roads or buildings or other causes?" Allen said. "Somebody needs to examine that more." He said his team hopes to conduct community-level analysis in the future.

Policy-makers also can use the study as a model for assessing the impact of structural changes elsewhere in agriculture, such as increases in the size of dairy farms or cattle feedlots.

Allen and Drozd said theirs is the only national study examining the county level impact of rapidly expanding, large-scale swine production.

Copies of the report are available from the center by calling 402-472-1772.

The study was funded in cooperation with IANR's Agricultural Research Division and its Center for Rural Community Revitalization and Development in part by Ag Processing Inc.

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