How come people do not care what they eat? There are many times when someone says this tastes amazing you turn around and it is some food that has been process, battered, and fried… You have not lived until you have eaten food that has been home grown and raised. Jim Fiedler actually butchers his own meat and sells it. If you have never tried fresh meat you don’t know what youre missing out on.
We had loaded a couple of tons of bagged pig feed on my truck at the St. Anthony Mill right before lunch and I joined Bill, Dave and Steve for a bite at the local bar & grill. St. Anthony is a small catholic German town near Jasper. That means the local bar & grill is directly across the street from the church and catholic grade school. The school is closed but the bar and church still prosper. The Monday lunch special is generous portions of fried chicken, German fried potatoes and cooked cabbage for about $4.75 plus your drink and a dollar tip.
Every county used to have a feed mill or two but now they are as scarce as successful farmers. But a feed mill still has a better handle on how farmers are doing except for maybe the local banker so lunch with the mill owners is a time to ask questions and learn.
My first question was, “Farmer’s hog prices suck. A couple of Perry County hog producers are getting out of the business. Are you seeing many of your hog producers go out of business?”
The St. Anthony Mill three, “We have only seen a couple hang it up so far.”
The farmer at the next table, “You can add one more to that total. I am getting rid of all my pigs.”
Me, “You mean you survived the late 1990s when prices fell to $9 a hundred wt. and you are getting out now?”
The farmer, “No, I mean survived 2002. That was the last time prices were this low but they only stayed that low for 2 months then.”
A little history is in order to explain that factory pigs at harvest weigh about 250 pounds (I prefer mine at 300 to 350 pounds but I am in a different business) and pigs are priced at dollars per hundred weight or in cents per pound. So $9 a hundred wt is the same as 9 cents a pound. In other words a 250 pound pig was worth about $22.50 at the low in the 1990s. Today the price again sucks at a little over $30 a hundred wt so they are getting about $75 for a market pig with is significantly below cost. By the way, the retail market is only down about 2% since most of the price is not to the farmer but for the middle man including the truck driver, processor, distributors and so on. This compares to $150 to $175 a hog when farmers are happy. Of course corn was $1.50 a bushel the last time pig farmers were happy. These guys are “small” with only 300 or so sows compared to the big guys with 3000 sows or many more. All are ‘factory’ operations with the pigs always in hog houses where they never go outside. And the outside which is you or me is never allowed inside because we can carry germs from which these hogs have no natural immunity or defense.
Corn is a little over $3 a bushel compared to $5 last year at this time and PeeWee says it will go below $3. Soybeans however are out of control at over $9 a bushel and not expected to go down. Rumor is the Chinese are buying all we will sell. The Chinese are not buying pork because of the swine flu which is ridiculous since swine flu can not be caught from pigs. Rumors are great and sometimes right except we just never know when. You know the he said that she heard that they reported the Chinese are buying turkeys instead. So one pig farmer with 3 pig houses did not breed his 300 sows back last month and is switching to the turkey houses. He already has 3 of those houses and he is making $4 a bird so he will now increase to 6 of them because the he said she said the Chinese are buying turkeys instead of pigs because of the swine flu. I actually think this is all pretty true but I also remember Ostrich farms.
The best thing right now about being a commercial hog farmer is that you are not a dairy farmer. The farm wholesale price for pork is only the worse in 30 years while milk prices are the worse since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Commodity milk prices have fallen 50% in the last 9 months which is the worse drop since that Depression. Dairy farmers used to be the rich ones. They bought new Buicks every year and the show offs bought Cadillac’s. They made lots of money because no one else wanted to work so hard. Milking a hundred cows at 4 AM every mourning and again 12 hours later every night 7 days a week every day of the year for the rest of your life weeded out all but the strong.
Now the 100 cow dairies are mostly gone and the 500 cow dairies are complaining about the 3000 cow dairies who wish they had 10,000 cows so they could survive. I spent many years in the oil business that invented the concept that the way to overcome low prices was by increasing volume. So the 10,000 cow dairies dream of 30,000 cow operations that I hear from a guy who heard from a friend who knows one who is losing $100 a cow per month. But he said if you are big enough, the banks will loan you more money to expand because the banks can not afford to let the big ones fail.
And none of them are buying new cars each year. Instead they are liquidating their herds which is killing the beef cattle commodity market. And higher prices won’t solve the problem there either because profit is only income after expenses. And expenses are not going down that fast. Corn may go below $3 a bushel but it is not going back to the days of happy cattle when corn was $1.50. Nether are fuel prices, seed prices, equipment prices nor fertilizer prices.
The big loser in this is the family farm and sustainable agriculture. It all gets pretty complicated which is why I like to make fence and bale hay!
Your Farmer & Agrarian Philosopher JimDo you enjoy this blog? Do you find the information helpful? Then go ahead and treat me to a coffee or send me a tip! I love Starbucks Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte. Choose any amount you wish, whatever you feel this blog is worth to you.