Long-term trends show productivity continues to improve in the U.S. swine industry.
"We've continued to get better at producing more pigs per sow, more pounds of pork per pig born, and we do that with less feed, with less health treatment, just through better management, better genetics," said Tim Safranski, University of Missouri associate professor and state swine breeding specialist. "We have more pork even without increasing the number of farmers or the size of those farms."
But staying in the industry will take dollars and equity, both of which have been in short supply with producers reporting losses of $10 to 25 per head over the past two years. It also will take some reflection by individual producers on how they plan to make their living.
Some producers already tap into the growing niche markets by raising or processing livestock in a way that customers believe carries enough value to justify a higher price.
"It allows producers to make the same amount of money on fewer head and so therefore make a living on a smaller farm," Safranski said.
When the economy falters, many of those consumers won't pay the higher price, but "in this cycle I've not seen that. There's a sustained commitment by consumers to pay the premiums for niche products," Safranski said.
At the same time, lower pork prices at the grocery store could draw in more consumers.
"I don't know how we can not see pork consumption go up," Safranski said. "We're not seeing a dramatic drop in other meats, but to the extent price affects consumption, this should increase consumption."
Simply getting people to try pork and perhaps think a little differently about it could lead to a long-term increase in consumption -- as long as the pork is prepared correctly, Safranski said.
"The complaint, when there is a complaint, is it's too dry, too tough (because they) cook it too long," he said.
Current FDA guidelines call for cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, but food safety is achieved when the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
"Even if we cook to 160 degrees, we will increase the dining pleasure, particularly in the roasts, chops and things like that," Safranski said. "I encourage consumers to get a thermometer. Take pork off the grill or out of the oven before it hits 160."