Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, and for good reason. But many other livestock sectors also contribute to the Dairy State’s agricultural economy, as well as the overall economy.

While Wisconsin’s hog industry certainly has undergone rapid, dramatic structural changes in recent years, with total hog numbers on a downward slide compared to a decade ago, it still represents a significant value-added activity as part of the state’s agricultural economy and the economy as a whole.

Traditionally the time of year when most pigs go to market, October is National Pork Month. All this month, pork producers across the nation are showcasing their products to consumers through recipes and other promotions.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show hog marketings in Wisconsin total almost $100 million and help contribute to about 10,000 jobs — either directly or indirectly — in various aspects of the industry, ranging from input suppliers to producers to processors and handlers, as well as Main Street businesses that benefit from purchases by people in these industries.

As of Dec. 1, 2017, there were 300,000 hogs and pigs on Wisconsin farms, according to the latest hogs and pigs report issued by the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Inventory was down 10 percent from the previous December’s 335,000 head. Breeding hogs accounted for 45,000 head of the total inventory, while market hogs totaled 255,000 head.

The annual pig crop was 772,000 head, up 17 percent from the year before, resulting from 81,000 sows farrowed between December 2016 and November 2017. The average pigs saved per litter was 9.53 for the period, down 1 percent from the previous year.

An estimated $375.8 million of personal income and $587 million of gross state product above and beyond the farm level are supported by the hog industry, based on 2016 levels of production and long-run prices, according to the National Pork Producers Council 2017 Economic Impact Study.

Pork is the world’s most widely eaten meat, representing about a third of all meat consumed, according to the USDA, and the U.S. is the third biggest pork-producing country, trailing China and the European Union. Nationwide, more than 68,000 pork producers annually market more than 110 million hogs.

Producers invest 40 cents for each $100 value of hogs sold to fund the national pork checkoff, operated by the National Pork Board, which, along with state groups such as the Wisconsin Pork Association, is working to foster closer connections with consumers.

Just last month, the Pork Board launched its second YouTube influencer campaign, with content designed to appeal to busy parents and families and a focus on grilling and cooking chops to a proper end-point internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Three more YouTube campaigns are planned in 2018, with the NPB leveraging relationships with major retailers to help boost sales.

As in other livestock sectors, hog farmers increasingly must be willing to prove to the public that they’re doing the right things to care for their animals and keep them healthy, according to central Illinois pig farmer Patrick Bane, who was named America’s Pig Farmer of the Year for 2018 earlier this month.

“We need to foster an increased understanding about how food is raised using today’s modern technology. It’s not only good for us as farmers, but it’s good for consumers,” said Bane, who raises 74,000 pigs. “You can’t drive that point home enough. We have a lot of good, positive stories to share.”

Steve Rommereim, National Pork Board president and a pig farmer from South Dakota, agreed: “It’s important that we tell today’s consumers how we raise their food in an ethical and transparent way. Patrick’s interest in sharing his farm’s story, as well as putting a face on today’s pig farming, will help us reach this goal.”

So, if you were looking for an excuse to enjoy that extra strip of bacon or helping of ham, you can do so guilt-free all this month as we join together to celebrate the hard-working pork producers who put it on our tables.