David Beasley | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) - The pork business in Nebraska is well positioned for growth, stated Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association.
"For the last three or four years, Nebraska has outpaced the national numbers in growth," he said. "Usually, from 2% to 4% we are outpacing what's going on nationally in hog production."
The COVID-19 slowdown caused just a blip in the growth in 2020, Juhnke said.
"We saw a lot of reduction in our herd at that time," he said. "We had plant slowdowns. There were more pigs than the plants could handle at the time."
It takes about a year to recover when herd size is reduced as it was in 2020, Juhnke said.
"We're seeing that now," he said. "We are seeing people repopulate some of those barns where the numbers may have been low."
Pork prices, particularly for bacon, have been "absolutely wonderful," he said.
Pork producers have been helped in recent years, when two laws restricting the industry were abolished, said Juhnke. State lawmakers overturned a law in 2016 that had barred meat packers from owning hogs. And in 2006, a federal judge ruled against the state's ban on corporations owning farmland.
"Any barriers that were there have been removed," he said. "We seem to have a friendly state politically and public policy-wise."
Nebraska has plenty of open land, bountiful corn and soybean crops and water for irritating those crops, Juhnke said.
"The feed is here, that's why the pigs are here," he said. "We're the biggest irrigated state in the country. In a year like this, when you look across the landscape and see a lot of drought, well there's dry conditions in Nebraska too. But there will be never be 100% drought because we turn on our irrigators."
Nebraska still needs to work on further reducing its property taxes, which would help hog farmers, Juhnke said.
The most recent report for Nebraska showed 3.8 million pigs in Nebraska.
"That's more pigs than we've had in 20 to 25 years," Juhnke said.