In an effort to stem a declining hog industry, the state of Michigan took a bold step three years ago and put $74 million towards animal agriculture. Rarely does a state these days encourage pork production. But Michigan had watched hog numbers and farm numbers decline with alarm.
The money was used to revitalize research and teaching facilities at Michigan State University and the extension programs throughout the state.
At the same time, the Michigan Pork Alliance was formed. The alliance teamed up several major farm groups in the state, state environmental and agricultural officials, Michigan State University and the pork packer Thorn Apple Valley, Inc. Their goal is to build the pork industry.
Now, people like Sam Hines, Michigan Pork Producers Association executive vice president, wait to see the outcome.
Their first glimpse that things may be turning around came from last year's USDA hog report. Since March 1997, Michigan's breeding herd increased 7-12% each quarter, Hines reports. The March 1998 report had the herd even. But Hines is optimistic.
"Like some of the other midwestern states, we've lost some of our market share over the past years," Hines says. National Pork Board data shows the state went from marketing 1.7 million hogs in 1987 to 1.4 million in 1997.
"But it appears we've turned the corner and see some of our numbers escalating," he continues. "We've seen some significant expansion. There is some attrition, some of the older operations dropping out. And we're probably going to lose another layer with this current market."
Today, environmental issues have been solved with workable rules and legislation. Hines says pork producers have a very good relationship with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. They are just completing more work with DEQ on setting up a pollution prevention strategy for Michigan agriculture.
Laura Martin, agricultural economist at Michigan State University, will measure the results of the animal initiative in the state. "This is a very progressive state in terms of wanting to grow (hog production) in an environmentally friendly way," she says. "They are making the effort to find a place for everyone to be in the pork industry. I think we are more proactive than reactive here."