Some 2,300 pigs and 20,000 pork farmers, packers and agricultural suppliers are convening in Des Moines, Iowa this week to talk shop at a time when hog prices are climbing.
They're a ways away from two years ago, when a devastating gastrointestinal virus wiped out millions of American pigs, a supply shock that shot prices to all-time highs of more than $1.33 a pound. But with that epidemic largely behind them and prices associated with lean hogs — the freshly-slaughtered pigs upon which the benchmark pork commodity prices are based — hovering above 80 cents per pound, producers are nonetheless pleased.
Hog wild, year-to-date
John Weber, a longtime hog producer who is now president of the National Pork Producers Council, an industry trade group, calls this a "rebuilding" phase.
"We're pretty much back at full production," he said. "Consumer demand has been terrific; it's held in there really well. Exports have done well. We have been able to compete against the competitive proteins."
No doubt he's referring to alternatives like chicken and beef, with which pork competes for a favored position in the American diet, sometimes with mixed results.
McDonald's, for instance, introduced an all-day breakfast menu last October, boosting demand for some of the fattier pork cuts that go in to bacon and sausage. But just a couple of weeks later, the World Health Organization warned that the consumption of pork and processed meat increased the risk of cancer, chilling that buzz significantly.