Farm and Market
Stockyards map showing the Sioux City Stockyards and the "Big Three" Packing Houses. Click to enlarge.
Farming and Agriculture
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Sioux City’s economy has long depended on the surrounding farms and farming communities. Iowa farms have changed through the years, growing different products in different ways. In the early 19th century Iowa was a major wheat producer, and by the 1860s it was the second-largest wheat producing state. In 1875 there was a series of grasshopper plagues, and most farmers switched to corn. By 1910 Iowa farms were producing 350 million bushels every year (1 bushel = 56 lbs. of corn), and 750 million by 1960. Since 1994 Iowa has ranked #1 in corn production in the United States. Farming technologies have changed as well, from simple hand tools to animal-powered tools in the early days. Machines, some made by prominent Sioux City manufacturers, revolutionized the farming industry. Small family farms grew into major agribusinesses, especially after the 1950s. Before 1950 the average Iowa farm was 170 acres. In 2007, that number grew to over 350 acres.
Midwestern cities often have the key role as a marketplace for farmers to sell their agricultural products. This was most definitely the case for Sioux City, so much so that it gained the nickname “The Marketplace for the Great Northwest.” Grain was stored and sold here in the city at elevators and mills, but the city was more well-known for the livestock trade. Cattle, sheep, and especially hogs were shipped into the city and housed at the local stockyards. After the Panic of 1893 the stockyards became centralized, mainly into the Sioux City Stock Yards Company in the Floyd River Valley. From there, local and national livestock commissioners purchased livestock, sometimes by auction but mostly by private contracts, for sale to meatpackers, other producers or to other commissioners. The stockyards were responsible for feeding, housing, and caring for the animals before they were sold, and thus employed a large workforce. The heyday of the stockyards was just after World War II, when the Sioux City Stock Yards Company was ranked among the top five in the world. The stockyards were closed in 2002 as packing houses began buying directly from producers, rendering major holding places like the Sioux City stockyards unnecessary.
Part of what made Sioux City such a great marketplace was not just the large stockyards, but the many different meatpacking companies that were also located in the Floyd River Valley. Meatpacking houses purchase livestock from stockyards and process them into meat and other animal products. They then sell these products to butchers, grocery stores, and to other businesses for further processing. In Sioux City the three major meatpacking houses were Swift & Company, Armour & Company, and Cudahy & Company, though there were many others as well. Most of the major local meatpacking businesses closed down with the decline of the stockyards, but some became incorporated into larger firms that embraced the changes of the new era. Today the meatpacking industry still has quite a presence in Siouxland, with major business firms like Tyson Foods and Iowa Beef Processors, Inc. (IBP).