The Independent Florida Alligator, February 1, 1999, page 9

UF Swine Unit feels effects of excess pig supplies

By Zophia Rendon, Contributing Writer

Too many pigs and not enough room at the slaughterhouses has caused an economic crisis for North American pork farmers, who are receiving such low prices from buyers that some Midwestern farmers are giving away their pigs.

The U.S. government and companies across the nation have announced plans to alleviate the excess supply of pigs by promoting pork consumption through government purchases and at local supermarkets and restaurants.

UF's Swine Unit feels the effects of the crisis even though it sells a limited number of pigs, said Tom Crawford, coordinator of research programs at the Swine Unit.

"We do sell some feeder pigs, but now we're not even making our feed money back," Crawford said.

Consumer demand for pork was up 7 percent in 1998 from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the low capacity at slaughterhouses and the high supply from farmers has created a bottleneck of pigs, causing pork prices to plummet.

The swine unit uses most of the 2,500 or so pigs it produces each year for farming research and student projects, but any pigs not used are sold at market price. The money from those sales goes back into the swine unit program and pays for supplies, Crawford said.

Before the pork surplus problem began, the swine unit made about $45 for a 50-pound pig. Crawford said the unit only made $17 to $18 per pig in December, preventing it from breaking even for the cost of feed and supplies.

"Everyone in the grocery stores is sympathetic when this happens," said Winn-Dixie spokesman Mickey Clerc. "This is a serious problem for pork producers. The thing that has hurt the pork farmers is that the foreign market is not there."

The problem of supply exceeding demand is not unusual in agriculture, Clerc said. Winn-Dixie and other retailers have promoted specials on pork to encourage customers to buy.

Restaurants added pork items to their menus in certain regions to help the pork producers. Burger King introduced a pork sandwich in the Midwest, while Denny's is featuring pork in its breakfast specials.

McDonald's, which uses 138.4 million pounds of pork annually, featured a bratwurst meal, the McGrilled Pork Sandwich, the McBLT, the Big McBacon and the McRib at different stores across the nation.

Although actual prices have fallen at grocery stores during the past year, prices still are not as low as many consumers might expect.

"The prices do look out of proportion, but you can't change the fixed costs," said Clerc. "People have to be paid."