Media missing the pig story
The announcement by Maxwell Foods that it will close its pig operation, leaving approximately 150 family farmers without a contract to raise the animals, sent shockwaves across the agriculture industry. The news has barely made a ripple in the media, outside of farming publications and the local newspaper.
North Carolina farmers raise more pigs than any other state except Iowa, according to the 2019 Agriculture Statistics. Had Hurricane Isaias impacted our state a few weeks ago, it’s almost guaranteed the pig industry would be in the news. It’s front page news for days if a hog lagoon overflows after a storm or a nuisance suit is filed against a farmer. But when those farmers are going to be out of a job, nary a mention can be found.
Don’t be mistaken - it’s not just the farmers and their families who will be impacted. The company employs more than 500 people at its offices. Many farmers who raise pigs for the company have employees who will lose their jobs. Other farmers who grow corn, soybeans, and other grains used to make pig feed will be left looking for a home for their crop.
This closure will also impact the community. The farms are located in small communities that depend on support from local businesses to fund and staff volunteer fire and EMS departments, local youth events, and community relief organizations. With farmers losing significant income, in some cases all of their income, the impact will be shared across communities in eastern North Carolina.
Last winter I had the opportunity to participate in media tour of a pig farm. Numerous media outlets were invited including a regional newspaper and a television station. Both have carried stories about the pig industry, usually focusing on the environmental impact of farms and rarely featuring interviews with pig farmers.
During the tour we walked inside the pig houses. Farmers shared their stories, including how diversifying and raising pigs allowed their families to stay on the farm. We talked to the company veterinarian, nutritionist, and environmental specialist. We heard from the farm’s neighbors, whose home we could see as we stood on the bank of the farm’s lagoon.
Lunch was served at the local firehouse, which is staffed by volunteer fire fighters including the farmer who hosted the group. We heard from county commissioners and other local officials on the economic impact pig farms have on the area.
It was a story rarely gracing the pages of newspapers or headlining the 6:00 news. The larger media outlets I mentioned earlier often feature stories calling for more transparency in the pig industry. Not one of them accepted the invitation and took the opportunity to visit a pig farm, and it doesn’t get more transparent than that.
Then, just like today, it was the local media who attended and wrote about the the impact of the pig industry. Only today the story is one of loss and uncertainty.