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Hog Farmers Are Not the Only Ones Suffering From Lower Prices

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SAMPSON COUNTY — The hog industry depression has the attention of the Clinton administration. Vice President Al Gore announced the government will spend $50 million to stabilize record-low hog prices.

The help cannot come soon enough to hog-dependent communities which are starting to feel the pinch in more ways than one.

North Carolina's hog farmers lost roughly $270 million last year, according to theNorth Carolina Pork Council.

But the ripple effect runs far and wide in our state's hog producing areas, so farmers are not the only ones suffering these days.

There is something wrong with an appliance store in the heart of hog country. The floor remains loaded with inventory just weeks after the season when Ray Johnson's business is supposed to bring home the bacon.

"We've seen some dramatic downturns in our entertainment portion of the business, our electronics portion of the business. Over the last 60 days, over 35 percent," said Johnson.

The lowest hog prices in four decades are creating a crisis for both farmers and business owners where the hog industry dominates the landscape.

Timmy Evans, owner of Golden Gifts Fine Jewelry, has been in the retail jewelry business for 20 years and is know as the "the farmer's jeweler.

"My customer base is 80 percent farmers so I live and die with the farmers. The recent low hog prices have a lot of people really scared, and our Christmas selling season was off 34 percent. When Christmas is 70 percent of your total year, it adds up fast," said Evans.

Add problems in cattle and tobacco to that, and you can see why theCooperative Extension Servicesays there is a problem.

"We estimate that 75 percent of our economy is directly based on agriculture," said County Extension Director Ed Emory.

"The future of hog prices are up and that looks good. The thing that really hurts is that over the past two years, the tobacco allotment has been cut more than a third. That is a third less the customer has to spend with us. It forced us to sell at high mark-downs," said Evans.

This agriculture downturn has not hurt everyone's bottom line just yet. But Sampson County tractor dealer Ronnie Jackson says do not forget the fear factor.

"We are noticing some hesitation, some people that are a little uncertain about what to do this coming year, and we definitely feel that our business will be impacted in the coming months," said Jackson.

For Johnson, the pessimism runs even deeper.

"I don't think that we've seen the bottom of this. I think that we're going to see continued concern into the coming year," said Johnson.

Hog prices are at record lows because there are too many available. Processors cannot slaughter more because of all the opposition to construction of new hog plants. Another alternative is to lower the number of hogs. The concern is that that choice could end up putting even more hog farmers out of business.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Mark Copeland, Photographer
John Clark, Web Editor

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