The number of U.S. hog farms declined last year for the 24th consecutive year, according to University of Missouri agricultural economist Ron Plain.

There were 69,420 hog operations in the United States in 2004, based on data from the Agriculture Department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That number is 4,300 fewer than in 2003 and 591,130 fewer than in 1980, the last year in which the number of hog farms increased, says Plain.

The percentage decline in hog farm numbers from 2003 to 2004 at 5.8% was much smaller than the average for the previous decade of 10.2%.

Iowa remains the top hog state both in production and in number of hog farms with 9,200 farms, followed by Minnesota (5,000), Ohio (4,000), Texas (3,900) and Illinois and Pennsylvania, both with 3,400 hog operations.

Though the number of hog farms continues to shrink, the number of hogs produced has remained fairly steady, meaning hog farm size keeps growing, explains Plain. In 2004, the average swine herd contained 871 hogs, up 6.3% from the previous year and nine times the average inventory of 1980.

U.S. hog operations with an inventory below 2,000 head represented 89.3% of all hog farms and 21% of the hogs. Those operations with more than 2,000 hogs in inventory made up 10.7% of hog farms, but had 79% of the hogs.

Of the 69,420 U.S. farms that raised hogs last year, only 60,830 owned hogs. The remaining 8,590 farms raised hogs for someone else in contract production. These contract producers raised nearly 40% of all U.S. hogs.

There were 1,150 firms that owned more than 5,000 hogs last year, accounting for 75% of hogs produced. There were 110 operations that owned more than 50,000 hogs at the end of 2004. They owned 54% of the hogs produced in the United States.

This trend toward fewer and larger hog farms is likely to continue unless there are new start-ups, says Plain.

“States that can streamline the permitting-construction process stand a good chance of attracting growth in hog numbers,” he notes.