Hogs Your Way: A Self Guiding Decision Support System
Producers Evaluating Hog Production Systems
Prescott H. Bergh, et al.
Outreach Coordinator, Sustainable Agriculture Program
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
A large, diverse team (including farmers, bankers, ag-economists, an ag engineer, a rural sociologist, and state dept. of ag), representing many facets of the hog industry developed a multi-disciplinary set of criteria to evaluate three alternative hog production systems and conventional confinement (liquid manure system). Evaluatory criteria categories included economic, labor, productivity, environment, and marketability, social and animal health. The three alternative systems included in the evaluation included the Swedish Deep Straw Farrowing System
(Vastgotmodellen), Pasture Systems for farrowing and finishing, and Hoop Houses utilizing deep straw for finishing and
farrowing. The alternative systems were found to be competitive financially for beginning, small and medium sized producers and mitigate many of the environmental concerns caused by conventional confinement buildings utilizing liquid manure. Products will include a video showing the systems and a decision-oriented workbook. The workbook includes descriptions of the systems and an integrated decision support guide to assist new and expanding producers to clarify their vision and goals for their farm and family, and evaluate the systems in light of their values.
This project was designed to serve several functions and audiences. Alternative swine operators had received research and demonstration grants from the Sustainable Agriculture Program of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While these alternatives appeared to offer some solutions to economic, production and environmental aspects of pork production, the systems had not been studied side by side. The goal of this study and decision making guide on alternative pork production was to help farmers prosper, to encourage producers of different systems and philosophies to coexist and cooperate and to bring recognition that there is no single perfect production system. Other goals were to offer alternatives, which can provide market access to smaller or newer producers, and to support pork production as a vital contributor to a well-balanced economy.
Methods and Materials
A large interdisciplinary team was assembled, consisting of farmers utilizing alternative hog production systems, an agricultural economist, agricultural lender, agricultural engineer, agricultural ecologist, a farm management educator, extension educator, rural sociologist and staff from the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
(MISA) and the Sustainable Agriculture Program of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The team met and created a set of 80 criteria to evaluate production systems side by side. Criteria were included under the headings of operator goals, economics, physical requirements, performance, labor / capital, feed and animal health, environment, marketing and social issues. The diverse group of participants was designed to insure that the criteria reflected questions that would be asked by those involved in all areas of hog production.
After the criteria were established, a small evaluation team consisting of five members visited eight farms at least twice during the fall of 1996 and spring of 1997. The visits consisted of both interviews, tours of the production areas, and follow up phone calls. Analysis and review of the results was carried out by the small group that visited the farms, with review and comment by the larger team. The production systems were also documented on video, slides and digital audio tape.
Final products of this project are a video of the alternatives, and a workbook. These are designed to compliment each other, to educate producers on alternatives, to help them integrate this knowledge with their vision for their farm, and to motivate them to take action to move toward their goals. A description of the workbook is as follows.
The Decision Guide-Section OneWhat Does "Your Way" mean?and Section FourWhat Happens Now?involve a simple process of each member of the farm family reviewing questions that are designed to stimulate them to think deeply about their potential hog enterprise, to consider the 'big picture' in making their choice. The questions are designed to have the family consider the impacts that adding differing systems might have on them by clarifying personal, family and farm goals. The results of each member's answers are compiled by the farm family as a group in Section Four, What Happens Now? This section asks the family to list their first and second choices and the top three reasons why they choose each system. Next, they are asked to list the top three challenges that they face in implementing their choices, and then brainstorm at least three ways to overcome the challenges through potential solutions or by gathering more information. Finally, they are asked to list three actions that they need to take in the next 30 days to move forward.
Section Two describes alternative options that the participating team felt are of interest and viable in Minnesota. It provides a brief description of each system. Systems evaluated include the following:
A. Swedish Deep Straw Farrowing System
B. Pasture Production Systems (Farrowing and Finishing)
C. Hoop House Deep Straw System (Finishing and
The descriptions of each system include background information on each system, including sections on housing, feed,
farrowing/growing, production performance, scale requirements, environmental aspects, financial/weather risks and social impacts on the farmer and the surrounding community.
Section Three takes a side by side look at important factors that may affect a producers decision in a evaluation criteria matrix, and utilizes three scenarios to help producers envision how these systems might fit with their operations and values.
The Hogs Your Way project guide was designed to help producers to clarify their goals in considering hog production alternatives, to help them understand the range of options available to them, to help them identify those which fit their strengths, interests and resources, to encourage further planning, discussion and networking at the grassroots level and to provide contact information so producers can research areas of interest on their own.
The broadcast quality video and slide set accompany the workbook for use by individuals or for use by educators, and allows users to get a clearer idea of what the systems look like. This workbook, assisted by the visual products that illustrate the alternative systems, will be useful to help potential adapters choose the system that best suits their situation. It will also be useful to educate lenders and other audiences about the alternative systems that are available and how they compare.
This information will promote a more productive and informed discussion of economic, environmental, regulatory and social issues surrounding livestock production in rural Minnesota that will be useful to farmers, bankers, planners, and other agricultural professionals.
Prescott Bergh, Peter Reese, Doug Gunnink, Terry Dalbec
Dwight Ault, Chris Barnier, Byron Bartz, Mike Bell, Debra Elias,Tom
Frantzen, Marlene Halvorson, Roger Hubmer, Larry Jacobson, Nolan Jungclaus, Tim King, Dick
Levins, Patricia Love, Roger Moon, Mark Moulton, Mike Natvig, Bret Oelke, Jim Van Der
Pol, Steve Zink.