DAWSON (AP) -- The future of 80 family farms in southwest Minnesota rests on the fate of a new kind of hog processing plant set to open around the middle of December.
It's farmer owned and controlled and seen as an alternative to the corporate philosophy dominating the industry. The farmers will soon find out if consumers will pay more for pork raised the old-fashioned way.
The past few years have been a lonely time for family hog farms. They used to rule the industry. A hundred pigs on an average sized farm. But now most of the nation's hogs are produced 1,000 or more pigs to a barn.
Minneota farmer Lyle Haroldson wants nothing to do with that system. "I think it takes a certain percentage of your independence away," Haroldson said.
Large hog farms usually sign a contract to sell their animals to meatpacking companies. The contract may give the meatpacker a say in how the farmer raises the animals. Haroldson has an independent streak and wants to control how he raises hogs.
"In a lot of them contracts, they were set up by the packer. And when they're set up by the packer you know they're going to favor the packer a little more than they are the farmer," Haroldson said.
Haroldson and other hog producers began working five years ago on a way to stay in business that could revolutionize the meat industry. They decided to build their own meatpacking plant.
Workers are putting the finishing touches on the $5.5 million plant located in the town of Dawson. It's called Prairie Farmers Cooperative. The first hogs should be slaughtered before year's end.
Plant manager Jack Hawk thinks family farmers around the nation are wondering whether the idea will succeed.
"There are an awful lot of eyes on this. Because if this concept works and a group of farmers from an area can have a little more control of their own destiny by being involved in something like this, (it) could be a wave of the future," Hawk said.
The plant will sell a full range of pork products, including hams, bacon and smoked meats. Eventually the co-op wants to sell a premium brand of pork produced from hogs free of antibiotics. The plant will be a small player in the nation's hog processing industry. About 400,000 hogs are slaughtered daily in the U.S. Prairie Farmers Co-op will process 300.
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