SMITHFIELD, Va. – Gestation stalls are out and group housing is in at Smithfield Foods, Inc. and its hog production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC.

The companies are asking contract sow growers to convert their housing systems to group housing for pregnant sows by 2022. Smithfield is offering a sliding scale of incentives to convert housing systems before the deadline. Growers who commit to group housing systems will receive contract extensions when the conversions are complete.

The conversions are voluntary. Murphy-Brown will not change contracts with growers who choose not to participate — however, contract extensions will be less likely, according to the company. Larry Pope, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, said, "We recognize that these projects require a significant investment on the part of our growers. But a well-planned renovation to a group housing system will help maintain the farms' value for years to come, while at the same time supporting our companywide commitment to animal care."

In response to client's changing values on the issue of sow housing, Smithfield Foods and Murphy-Brown began converting from individual gestation stalls to group housing arrangements for pregnant sows on company farms. Smithfield noted that through the end of 2013, the companies had transitioned 54 percent of pregnant sows on company-owned farms in the United States to group housing systems.

"More and more food companies are looking to suppliers to move toward group housing systems for pregnant sows," said Dennis Treacy, executive vice president and chief sustainability officer of Smithfield Foods. "To date, more than 50 companies — many of them Smithfield customers — have announced that they will source pork in the future from suppliers utilizing group housing.

"In line with our animal care initiatives and sustainability goals, and in order to meet the needs of our customers, we believe that it is now time to encourage conversion of pregnant sow housing systems at contract sow grower facilities," he added. "In fact, several growers have already converted or have made plans for the change." Smithfield notified their contract sow growers nationwide of this recommendation last month."