For more than 3,400 producers raising more than 4 million pigs and contributing to an industry that generates nearly $2 billion each year in economic impact, the success of Illinois’ pork business largely comes down to the real estate.
“It’s all about location,” says Mike Grohmann, who runs Cedar Ridge Swine Seedstock in Red Bud with his five brothers.
“Illinois is centrally located in the Corn Belt for access to corn and soybeans for feed, in close proximity to the Midwest’s packing industry so we save time and resources getting animals to the processing plant, right on the Mississippi River, and have a livestock terminal for international export at Chicago’s O’Hare airport,” Grohmann says. “Our location helps every part of this business.”
High on the Hog
It’s a business that ranks Illinois fourth in the U.S. in pork production and makes the state a leader in swine breeding and genetics. The state’s central location and proximity to feed and packing sources, as well as domestic and international export avenues allows the industry to thrive. But Illinois farmers aren’t only concerned with the number of their livestock, but the quality of their pigs as well.
“It’s about improving the animals,” Grohmann says. “For us, that means improving the number of pigs, their structural soundness, lean muscle content, growth rate, longevity, feed efficiency and pork quality. And we do that through genetics.”
Established in 1954, Cedar Ridge is one of the largest family-owned, purebred breeding stock operations in the country. It is currently run by Mike and his brothers Freddie, Randy, Stan, Dennis and Bob, and breeds Landrace, Hampshire, Yorkshire and Duroc hogs for sale and export across the U.S. and internationally.
“In this business, we rely on one another within the industry,” Grohmann says. “Our role is to improve the genetics of these animals so that we are selling a better product to producers.”
New technology and research are key to improving the quality of Illinois swine stock. In 2001, Prairie State Semen in Champaign, who supplies fresh and frozen semen and vaccines to producers across the U.S. and to 15 countries, was the first company to successfully clone herd boars from adult founders using somatic cell nuclear transfer. “Our purebred boar lines have laid the foundation in a large number of different breeds and have greatly influenced the breeding stock in operations throughout Illinois and across the country,” says Jon Fisher, president of Prairie State Semen.
Because of its prime location, Illinois has always been a leader in supplying producers with parent and grandparent stock, Fisher says.
“Illinois has always had a large demand for their genetics because of their ability to perform and make the new livestock owners successful in their operation,” Fisher says. “Many of the greatest purebred herds have been carefully selected for and maintained utilizing the keen eye and talent of various breeders.”
Pigs of the Future
At the University of Illinois, researchers are constantly looking for improvements and advancements in farming genetics. Dr. Anna Dilger, assistant professor in meat science and muscle biology, and Dr. Jon Beever, professor in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics, are working on a project examining the genetic modification of myostatin to enhance feed efficiency and lean carcass yield in pigs. Dr. Rob Knox, associate professor in reproductive biology, is working on improving the fertility and efficiency from the use of cryopreserved boar sperm from genetically superior sires.
For all of the advancements in feed, frozen semen and cloning technologies, there are always more doors to be opened, Fisher says.
“There will always be something new, something more we can do to improve this business.”