By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa -- The throne is under siege. Is the pork queen's reign in danger? In Iowa, of all places, where hogs outnumber people?
Iowa has crowned a pork queen since 1960, but some in the pork industry are starting to wonder if the title's time has passed.
Fewer young women are entering the competition, critics note. Last year, there were only 11 contestants. There's no more national queen contest because Ohio is the only other place with a state pork queen.
Another common criticism is that the contest excludes young men. Some suggest that the Iowa Pork Producers Association, which sponsors the queen, should pick a "pork ambassador" who could be male or female. Nebraska, Missouri and Illinois all have gone that route, said Jen Holtkamp, spokeswoman for the 4,000-member Iowa association.
Soo Greiman can't see it. Greiman was the 1973 Iowa pork queen and the 1974 national queen. Her daughter, Cassidy, is the current Iowa queen.
"My guess is a young man is not going to want to serve as a witness for the pork industry riding on the back of a car in a parade, wearing a sash and waving," Soo Greiman said.
A traditionalist view, to be sure. But pork queen supporters say the position is all about tradition - a bright, personable young woman who understands the ins and outs of raising hogs and can speak knowledgeably about one of the state's major industries.
Iowa markets 25 million hogs annually, one-fourth of the nation's total. At any one time there are 16 million hogs in the state, about five for every person.
"We're the major state in the country," said Tim Bierman, who raises hogs near Larrabee in northwest Iowa. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be doing it."
The issue of keeping the pork queen came up during this year's Iowa Pork Congress in January. After some discussion, delegates put off a vote and instead asked that a recommendation be prepared for next year's meeting.
When Soo Greiman was chosen pork queen, there were so many county queens entering that the association had to hold regional competition to narrow the field before it reached the state level.
But times have changed. There are fewer family farms and families are smaller now. There also are more activities for girls in rural areas, including athletics, drama, music and speech.
And there's something else at work, too.
"It's not as cool to be involved in agriculture as it was even 10 years ago," said Cassidy Greiman, who's an exception to that thinking. Farming has always been cool for her. So has the prospect of becoming the pork queen.
"Really, it's been a dream of mine since I was 7 years old," said Greiman, 19, who will be a sophomore in agriculture this fall at Iowa State University. "Watching the Iowa pork queens and going to the Pork Congress and watching the girls at the ceremony, I always wished I could do the same thing."