In Iowa, hogs have been known as the legendary mortgage lifters because raising and selling pigs helped early settlers pay for their homesteads, establish their farms and build for the future.

These days, hogs are the economic lifters for many of Iowa’s rural communities, according to a panel of Iowa’s hog industry at last week’s Iowa State University (ISU) Soil Management Land Valuation Conference in Ames. Hog production, they said, raises land values, creates well-paying jobs, spurs economic activity on Main Street and — maybe most importantly — provides a vehicle for young people to come back to rural communities.

“Iowa’s communities that have embraced livestock production have been the ones that show the most economic growth,” said Dermot Hayes, an ISU agricultural economics professor and member of the panel.

A big reason hogs are an economic spark plug is that they fit so well into rural Iowa’s economy, said another panelist, Jason Demaray of Farm Credit Services of America. Hogs consume locally-grown corn and soybeans and, in turn, provide natural crop fertilizer, he said.

Hog production also creates lots of jobs in rural Iowa, said Jen Sorenson, communications director for Iowa Select Farms. Many of those are highly-skilled positions which support the increasingly technical business of caring for pigs, she said.

Hog production is also bringing many young people back to the farm, Demaray said. Raising hogs either in a barn or outdoors is a much more feasible entry point than crop farming, which requires a steep investment to buy or rent land and secure equipment, he said.

And as Ryan Cox of CBI Bank & Trust in Muscatine said: “There is no better place to raise hogs than in Iowa. We can compete with anybody in the world.”