In a state well-known for its booming poultry industry and high-ranking cotton and beef markets, it could be easy to overlook another one of Mississippi’s top agriculture sectors. Valued at $102 million, the Magnolia State’s pork industry is another economic powerhouse. According to John Michael Riley, agricultural economist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, over the past 10 years the industry has experienced a decline in value only twice. “Pork remains a vital industry in Mississippi’s agricultural economy, and it’s growth is encouraging for the future in light of a time when balance sheets for individuals, companies and government are slowly improving,” says Riley. Ranked 17th in the United States, Mississippi is home to nearly 440 hog farms and 355,000 hogs and pigs. The industry continues to grow, with 747,000 piglets born in 2011, the latest year that data is available.
One of the major industry players in Mississippi is Prestage Farms’ farrow-to-wean operation. A farrow-to-wean operation raises pigs from birth until they are weaned. Piglets are weaned when they weigh 10 to 15 pounds. Headquartered in North Carolina, Prestage Farms is a leader in several agriculture sectors. Its pork production division began with just 500 sows in 1983, says general manager Terry Emerson. After founding its West Point division in 1991, one of the nation’s largest family-owned pork producers provides 200 jobs in the state and contracts with 40 farm families in Mississippi and Alabama. Today, the West Point division serves the company as a 32,000 sow farrow-to-wean operation, supplying pigs to the Iowa finishing division, as well as multiplication gilts to North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Oklahoma.