New Report Outlines Deepening Crisis in Iowa Hog Industry

Study finds more production than ever, but economic and environmental crises for farmers and communities

Published May 5, 2022


Food System

Study finds more production than ever, but economic and environmental crises for farmers and communities

Study finds more production than ever, but economic and environmental crises for farmers and communities

A new report released today from the national environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch details the growing crisis in Iowa farm country caused by the increasingly consolidated hog industry. The report is the second in a series outlining the harsh economic costs to consumers, rural communities and farmers of corporate monopolies throughout the American food system.

In the report — “The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: The Hog Bosses” — Food & Water Watch analyzed the economic welfare of counties in Iowa, ground zero for the nation’s consolidated hog industry. Through an analysis of 35 years of data from the USDA Census of Agriculture, the report examines the impacts of a hyper-consolidated agriculture industry on Iowa’s local economies, consumer prices and climate change. The report also highlights how federal policies and lax antitrust oversight enabled and encouraged these impacts.

The report finds that Iowa is producing more hogs than ever, on fewer farms than ever, to the detriment of local economies. Specifically:

  • Iowa lost nearly 90 percent of its hog farms from 1982 to 2017, as rapid factory hog expansion drove out smaller, family-scale farms. Continued farm loss is a steady trend, with fully one third of Iowa’s remaining hog farms disappearing from 2007-2017.
  • Since 1982, Iowa counties with the most hog factory farm development suffered declines across several economic indicators, including real median household income and total jobs. These counties also experienced significant population decline — twice the rate of Iowa’s rural counties overall.
  • Overproduction — and growing corporate consolidation — have pushed down the real price of hogs. Adjusting for inflation, today’s farmers earn $2 less per pound of pork produced compared to 1982, while the retail price fell only $1; slaughterhouses, processors and retailers capture the other $1.

A March poll commissioned by Food & Water Action found that 95% of Iowa voters support rules that make it easier for small farmers to compete with large agricultural corporations, and a 2019 study found that 63% of Iowa voters support legislation to ban factory farm expansion and corporate monopolies in our food system.

“Our centralized, corporate-controlled food system was built to funnel local resources into Wall Street hands, at the expense of local economies, independent family farms, consumer prices and our environment. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Iowa’s hog bosses,” said Food & Water Watch Research Director Amanda Starbuck. “Factory farming, dismantling federal supply management, and a consistent willingness to shirk antitrust oversight and enforcement for the industrial agriculture industry are hollowing out Iowa farm country. To fix this, Iowa legislators must enact a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. And President Biden must ban new and expanding factory farms through passage of the Farm System Reform Act, restore supply management in the 2023 Farm Bill and improve antitrust oversight and enforcement.”

“I run a factory farm because I have to; I run a regenerative hemp farm because I want to,” said farmer Ethan Vorhes of Floyd County, Iowa. “Over my daughter’s lifetime, Iowa lost one third of our farms. While I’m one of the few remaining, I’m struggling to make ends meet. Our policies, tax dollars and elected officials should support methods of farming that help farmers like me and families like mine — not industrial factory farming that lines Wall Street pockets at our expense.”

“It started with needing to take on a second job to make ends meet — farming just doesn’t pay the bills like it used to,” said farmer Nick Schutt of Hardin County, Iowa. “Jobs are evaporating and my community along with it. Today, I work three jobs. Farming, hauling trash for the dump, and fighting against the very policies that created this mess. We have to give power back to the little guy, by banning factory farms and halting the corporate consolidation ruining Iowa.”

“After 25 years out-of-state, I returned to Iowa for retirement. It felt like a completely different place,” said Linda Luhring of Calhoun County, Iowa. “The businesses I’d frequented in my hometown had shuttered, and everywhere I looked, I found nothing but hogs and corn. Iowa is so much more than Big Ag’s playground. We need to reign in corporate power, stop the unsustainable proliferation of factory farms and reinvest in our rural communities.” 

“Decades ago, the federal government told farmers to “get big or get out,” so they did. We’re paying with the consequences now,” said Julie Duhn of Hardin County, Iowa. “People are leaving town to find jobs, and factory farms are polluting our air and water without regulation. It’s up to our elected officials to turn this ship around. The government needs to reinvest in farmers doing the right thing, not the destructive factory farming system carving out our communities.”

For more on The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies report series from Food & Water Watch, see Grocery Cartels, detailing exploitative retailer monopolies and their impacts on consumers.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Press Contact: Seth Gladstone [email protected]