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Pork Powerhouses 1995: What a Difference a Year Makes

Quite a year. That’s a simplified description of the ups and downs in the hog industry during the past 12 months. But despite uneven prices and controversy in the industry, many large farms continue to expand, and others crowd their ranks. Click here to view the Pork Powerhouses ranking list. 

(Photo: Bruce Rastetter, 39, is president and CEO of the largest pork operation to join our ranking since last year. His firm, Heartland Pork Enterprises, is based in Alden, IA, and owns 18,000 sows. Half of these sows are involved in Cotswold genetic production.)

Last year there were 31 farms owning at least 10,000 sows. This year there are 44. The top 10 farms added 159,500 sows in the last year (19% growth). This elite group now owns almost 1 million sows.

Still number one is Murphy Family Farms, growing from 180,000 to 227,500 sows. This farm is now twice as big as the number two operation, Carroll’s Foods, which slammed a halt to all expansion when market prices plummeted lasts fall.

Other companies with notable upward climbs were Smithfield Foods, going from 65,000 to 95,000 sows; Seaboard, expanding from 20,000 to 50,000 sows’ and Iowa Select Farms jumping from 11,400 to 42,000 sows.

First time on the list

Here are a few operations that made our ranking for the first time this year.

Heartland Pork Enterprises. This Iowa operation is the largest producer new to our ranking since last year. The company’s 18,000 sows are split between commercial and genetic production. Last fall Heartland, under the direction of president and CEO Bruce Rastetter, purchased the nation’s fourth-largest breeding stock company, Cotswold USA.

“Our goal is to be the genetic alternative to PIC,” says Rastetter, an Iowa native who started contract finishing in 1984 and had 20,000 pigs on feed by 1986. Heartland now has 219 employees and owns feed and construction businesses besides swine production.

“We have grown quietly in Iowa by building strong farmer relationships,” says Rastetter. “We limit the number of animals we place on one site and don’t build outdoor lagoons.”

Circle Four Farms. This start-up Utah operation is owned by Smithfield, Carroll’s, Murphy and Prestage. It started farrowing this spring and plans to have 22,800 sows on the farm by the end of 1995. The final goal is 120,000 sows in five or six years.

Alliance Farms Cooperative Association. This new Colorado farm of 12,000 sows is a producer-owned co-op managed by Farmland Industries. The stock is traded publicly, and Farmland is required by law to own less than 50%.

Hog Slat. This hog environment manufacturer is now involved in swine production. The company enters our list this year with 10,000 sows.

Lundy Packing. This pork packer from North Carolina now has swine production. The best industry estimate for Lundy is 10,000 sows, although the company will not confirm this number.

Esbenshade Mills/Hershey Ag. In Lancaster County Pennsylvania, Glenn Esbenshade has been in the egg business for several decades. He provides most of the financial backing and Brent Hershey provides most of the management for their swine operation.

Hanor Farms. This rapidly expanding North Carolina operationhas changed names and structure in the past year. General manager Ricky Forkum says Hanor will expand from 12,000 to 35,000 sows within the next 12 months.

“Our focus is changing from commercial swine production to PIC multiplication,” says Forkum.

Bell Farms. Richard Bell heads up this diversified family-run operation based in North Dakota, with production scattered in several Midwest states. The farm includes Bell West, a new outdoor sow operation in Lamar, Colorado. The industry estimate for Bell Farms is 10,000 sows, although the Bell family would not comment on-the-record or provide sow numbers for this article.

MPI Farms. Sow numbers for this young Minnesota farm were included with Hastings Pork last year, but are spun off this year due to ongoing restructuring by Hastings.

Other changes

Smithfield Foods. The most aggressive expansion in North Carolina during the past 12 months was at Brown’s of Carolina, a farm owned by Smithfield. Brown’s has added 30,000 sows since last October, and plans to have 87,500 sows in production by the end of 1995.

Goldsboro Milling. The North Carolina operation expanded from 30,000 to 52,000 sows during the last year and signed a marketing agreement with Smithfield Foods.

Prestage Farms. Prestage finished its planned expansion from 74,000 to 96,000 sows, and has nothing else under construction. Yet.

“We hit our plan and did what we said we were going to do,” says Bill Prestage. “Now we’ll try to do a good job with what we have. Our feed mills and facilities in North Carolina are maxed out.” Future growth may come at the company’s Mississippi farm, however. Prestage’s new feed mill there will be operating by October.

“We’ll see what the costs are and evaluate that operation then,” says Prestage. “If it looks good, we will be aggressive in building farms.”

White Oak Mills. This Pennsylvania company emphasizes both commercial swine production and genetics. Over 3,500 White Oak sows are devoted tot eh production of ProGenetics gilts for in-house use and independent sales. Due to higher corn prices in Pennsylvania, White Oak began shifting its commercial finishing to the Midwest, and has established a second headquarters in Walnut, Iowa.

Murphy Family Farms. Sow numbers rose from 180,000 to 227,500 since last fall, and continued growth is planned, especially in the Midwest.

Cargill. Industry estimates for Cargilll run as high as 120,000 sows, but the company syasy the number is closer to 80,000. Cargill’s recent acquisition of Tyson’s hog slaughtering plant in Missouri leaves many wondering if the company will buy Tyson production units as well. Both companies deny these rumors.

Seaboard Corporation. Its new packing plant near Guymon, Oklahoma, should open later this month. With 50,000 sows, the company will supply one shift. Expansion is ongoing, and Seaboard plans to be at 100,000 sows by next fall.

Premium Standard Farms. Sow numbers have not changed for this Missouri firm. Planned expansion in Texas was halted this spring for financial reasons. The cpmany’s new packing plant in Milan, Missouri, opened last fall and is not exporting pork to the European Union and Japan.

Carroll’s Foods. No change in sow numbers; planned expansion halted when the market dropped last fall. However, a new sow farm in northwest Iowa is under construction and will be stocked this fall.

Producer co-ops and alliances growing in southern Minnesota

Reader feedback to our first ranking of Pork Powerhouses last October included suggestions of operations we should check out. Several readers mentioned swine production cooperatives and alliances in southern Minnesota. Here is an update on a few of these ventures.

ValAdCo. This cooperative in Renville, Minnesota, has just stocked its fourth sow unit, bringing the sow total to 8,750, says president Rick Olson. “We thought we would be over 10,000 sows by now,” he explains.

“We planned to be, but slow processing of permit applications at the state level and new county ordinances set us back.”

Evergreen Partners 1. This producer-owned genetics alliance near Morris, Minnesota, provides boars and gilts to its producer partners for their home farms. It is also a daughter nucleus herd for Genetiprok USA, whose nucleus base is in Quebec, Canada. Genetipork USA has a multiplier network of independent producers across the country.

Fairmont System. This genetic alliance, started in 1987, was the first of its kind in Minnesota. It is managed by the Fairmont Veterinary Clinic. Producers own and operate farms independently, but share genetics and information.

Pipestone System. Similar to the Fairmont System, this alliance is managed by the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic, Pipestone, Minnesota. The System itself does not own any sows, but it manages and coordinates sows for independent producers.

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