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Pigs kept families on the farm
“Moving to pigs kept our family farm in the family and kept it viable.”
This is one of the messages I heard from James Lamb, a pig farmer from North Carolina, on a recent tour of another pig farm in the state. The goal of the tour was to give media an opportunity to tour a pig farm and ask the farmer questions. It was sponsored by Feed the Dialogue NC, the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, and the North Carolina Pork Council.
Driving across eastern North Carolina, you see flat, fertile farmland that has grown corn, soybeans, wheat, and other crops for generations.
Numerous farms in this area traditionally grew flue-cured tobacco, which was considered a cash crop. Tobacco paid the bills for many farmers in years when the paycheck for selling grain was less than the cost to grow it.
Tobacco used to be grown on a quota system, where the government limited the amount of tobacco a farmer could grow. This was done to control supply and demand. At that time, tobacco was the most profitable crop on the farm. The quota system ended in 2004 with a 10-year buyout, formally known as the Transitional Tobacco Payment Program. When this system was eliminated, some farmers began looking for other options to keep their family on the farm. Some farmers started growing more tobacco to make the same amount of money. Livestock offered another solution.
Many farmers built houses to raise pigs, chickens, or turkeys in. They signed contracts with companies and raised the animals for that company. This allowed farmers to do what many do best – farm – and that eliminated the need to market these animals.
Eastern North Carolina was a good fit for several reasons. The area was mostly rural. The land is flat with large fields. Crops needed fertilizer, and livestock manure offered a good source of natural fertilizer.
Perhaps most importantly, farmers were growing the corn, soybeans, and small grains that are the main ingredients in livestock feed. Companies built feed mills in the area and began buying from local farmers like my husband and me. Most of the corn, soybeans, and wheat grown on our farm are sold for livestock feed.
Farmers diversifying to livestock kept those farms in the family and also helped other farms diversify into different types of agriculture.