WASHINGTON- The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) released the findings of a study on the continued struggle to solve the problem of labor shortages in its industry.

Iowa State University economists published recent findings that showed from 2001-2020 the US pork industry grew at an annual rate of 1.5%, which was four times faster than employment growth in all US industries.

Even with expanded wages and jobs, the US pork industry said it faces significant labor shortages from an aging rural labor population where hog farms and harvest facilities are located.

The study also noted that from 2014-2019 the rural labor force shrank in five of the eight top pork-producing states.

“Conditions in the agricultural labor market have been challenging for decades,” wrote the group of Iowa State economists, which included Christian Boessen, PhD, Georgeanne Artz, PhD, and Lee Schulz, PhD. “The agricultural industry in the US has progressed from a fairly large labor-intensive sector where family members supplied the majority of the farm labor, to one of much larger, more capital-intensive farms requiring a larger workforce comprised of skilled farm operators supplemented by a pool of unskilled labor, which is often seasonal and migrant. As a result of this evolution in both the number and the skill level required of employees in agriculture, many farmers have struggled with labor hiring and retention challenges.”

What’s been critical for the US pork industry’s continued growth through the last decade is foreign-born workers according to the study.

“In many rural labor markets, immigrant workers have lessened the negative effect of net out-migration, helping to keep rural communities in these markets economically viable,” the economists said.

The entire study can be found here.

During the last month, the NPPC testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the labor shortage at many processing plants.

The association continues to advocate for the extension of H-2A visas without a cap. Currently the visas are used for seasonal workers in agriculture.  

“The US pork industry has a critical labor shortage that needs to be urgently addressed,” said Jen Sorenson, president of NPPC to the committee. “Pork production is year-round, and visa reform should reflect that reality.”