Innovation and stagnation in farm industry
In this excerpt, Faircloth describes the North Carolina entrepreneurs who embraced innovation as Midwestern farmers stubbornly clung to old practices.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lauch Faircloth, July 16, 1999. Interview I-0070. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: Tell me the story of the evolution of what has become this very successful hog operation. Describe its inception. If you can, tell that story in detail. I think it would be interesting as a case study in how livestock have become--.
LF: Well maybe it's all over the world but, you seem to have had a lot of tough entrepreneurial, pragmatic men that evolved in North Carolina immediately after World War Two. We went through McColl, Crutchfield, a lot of people. Some of these people were down east in farming. I remember one time I was making a speech on the same program with John Medlin who was, at that time, CEO of Wachovia. John got up and said that if it had not been for a scholarship, he would still be in eastern North Carolina farming for a living. I followed him and I said, “Hell John, I didn't get a scholarship.” So the midwestern farmer--. I'm not running for office in Iowa and Illinois, it's the most hide bound, locked in mindset [part of the world] that you'll ever find anywhere. If great grandpa from Sweden built a barn forty feet high to put forty cows in and attached it to his house, no matter that the whole dairy industry's gone to hell and we can't sell the milk, I'm going to build a forty foot barn and attach it to the house. They were raising pigs. Thoughout all the midwest pigs were raised literally in forty-foot high barns with a few pigs in one corner of it smelling to all hell. There was no way to clean it. There was no nothing. These mammoth dairy barns that absolutely were just antiquated when they were made to hold loose hay -- built before the day of a hay baler -- they had fifty pigs sitting in the corner of it. You couldn't have made enough on the pigs to paint the barn every ten years, but that's the way papa did it. Some very bright people here discovered that you didn't need--. Very few pigs were over thirty-nine feet high, so we did not need a forty-foot barn. It served no benefit except [for a pig] getting diseases by rooting in the mud and freezing to death in the winter and having a million flies on him in the summertime. They began to design -- and this is primarily a case of where the university system followed the farmer -- these smaller houses. Flat fans cooled [the houses] and all of a sudden rather than one sow producing four pigs a year, these people were producing twenty pigs a year to a sow. Instead of in the midwest not knowing, having no earthly idea--. [It was like] what he said, “What does it cost to grow a pound of cotton? It doesn't make any difference, they're going to grow it. Whatever they can get for it. What's it cost to grow a hog? Didn't make any difference. Whatever you can get for him.” Feed conversion would've been--. You might as well have been talking Swahili to them [to midwestern farmers]. Well, all of a sudden, the North Carolina farmers got into computers, cooling, fans, and there were--. You can get the figures, but there were millions of hog farmers. There were probably three million in the country, all with little infinitesimal ten or twelve sows. Well this area [North Carolina] all of a sudden discovered they could grow a hog much cheaper and much faster and much cleaner regardless of what is said. I mean, we are irrigating on four and five hundred acres of land. Actually, most of the farms irrigate contrary to what you would be led to believe. They actually have to supply additional fertilizer and nitrogen because it's simply spread so thin on such a wide area, that there isn't enough to grow a crop on it. You have to supplement it. Anyway, I must say a credit to the banks. They right quick were willing to make million dollar farm loans and multi-million dollar loans. All of a sudden they understood to put one hog farm together cost a million and a half dollars. Well if you had walked into the average Iowa bank or farmer and said [it would cost] a million dollars, he'd have said, “You want to buy this bank and which other one?” They were just staggered.