A 10-year Iowa State University study confirms what many farmers already know to be true: farm families raising hogs in modern barns have a positive social and economic benefit on their neighborhoods and communities.

Steve Sapp, ISU professor of sociology, and recent ISU graduate student Daniel Sundblad examined 99 Iowa communities — one in each county — and used both subjective and objective indicators to determine quality of life. Towns were selected if their population was below 10,000 residents, was not adjacent to a large city and relied mainly on agriculture for jobs and income.

Funded by USDA’s National Research Initiative, the study’s goal was to seek a better understanding of key factors regarding the effects of large-scale agriculture on the quality of life in small rural Iowa communities.

Measurements included total household income, income inequality, poverty, infant mortality and crime rates. Respondents also were surveyed about their attitudes toward community members and government and neighborhood services. The study also gauged people’s involvement in their community and the extent of “good neighboring.”

Sapp says the study’s findings suggest a modest favorable effect of large-scale agriculture on quality of life in the 99 Iowa communities. The research team went a step further by also analyzing the direct impact of hog production on local communities.

Titled “Pork Production and the Quality of Neighboring in Rural Iowa: A Report to the Iowa Pork Producers Association,” the study included such variables as trustworthiness, fairness, caring, citizenship, environmental trends, stewardship and expertise involving co-existing relationships between small-town residents and large-scale pork producers.

Sapp says they found that the greater the scale of hog production in the county, the higher quality of life ratings from the community. For example, residents tended to rate their government services and community services higher with increases in the scale of agriculture in their county.

“Farmers have known for a long time that modern livestock production contributes not only economic advantages to the surrounding area, but also social benefits,” said Iowa Pork Producers Association President John Weber, a producer from Dysart. “This study demonstrated that communities can become more vibrant with the presence of livestock in the area.”

After living in Iowa for nearly 25 years, Sapp says the study’s results reaffirmed what he anticipated would be a close connection between agriculture and quality of life in small, rural communities. “I was expecting that there would be an overall favorable effect, and that is what we found,” Sapp says.

He hopes to obtain funding to repeat the study in 2014 and continue to learn more about trends in the relationship between agriculture and rural communities’ quality of life.

Source: Iowa Pork Producers Association