7 Pork Month messages to digest

During National Pork Month, the National Hog Farmer staff sat down with pork leaders, discussing the real issues of the swine business.

As the month comes to an end, here is a wrap-up of 7 key takeaways from these forward-thinking leaders.

1. Expanding industry better than shrinking 
Pork Month 2016 comes as the U.S. swine industry is facing some financial challenges, but National Pork Board Chief Executive Officer, Bill Even, says the industry also has some opportunities for success. “The U.S. pork industry is growing, which presents some challenges along with new opportunities. There will be volatility in the market as people and business realign, but it’s much better to be in an expanding industry than in one that’s contracting,” says Even.

2. Pork demand is strong
Pork is the world’s most widely eaten meat, representing 36% of all meat consumed, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Overall, demand for pork domestically and abroad is good.

“Consumers recognize the versatility of serving pork in their homes,” says Al Wulfekuhle, Iowa Pork Producers Association president. “That is what is so great about pork. It absorbs flavor well. It is a lean, nutritious and low-cost product.”

For the most part, the consumption of pork domestically is vigorous and stable. However, the true market growth potential is the export market. Twenty-five percent of the U.S. pork is exported.

The national recognition of pork in October is a good reminder to all pork producers to share his or her story with consumers locally and worldwide. He says, “We get a lot of questions from consumers, especially in the United States, about how the product is raised and if we care about the environment. I think the message we keep getting is we need to show that we do care.”

3. Global market access, eliminating trade barriers is essential for U.S. pork future
The large supply of hogs is unquestionably a combination of suitable production fundamentals — production efficiency picking up, low disease pressure and moderate expansion. That is exactly what is bringing extra pigs to the market, explains National Pork Producers Council President, John Weber. 

It will take efficiently raising pigs to feed a growing world population that craves the global favorite animal protein — pork. America’s pig farmers can provide safe, tasty pork for the world, however, gaining access to certain global marketplaces has it challenges.

Weber clearly explains that trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership are essential to growing global market access for U.S. pork.

“All 11 countries are pork-consuming countries in a big way. It is access to over half billion new consumers. These economies are progressive and growing. You cannot just ignore that,” Weber further explains. “I personally do not think you can isolate yourself away from that type of market. I think it would be a financial disaster not only for your own personal operation, but for the country in general.”

Since TPP is a legacy issue with the Obama administration, NPPC still thinks the vote will happen this year after the election.  

4. Pork message for the hog farmer
Though the current market situation casts a dark shadow over the swine industry, Minnesota Pork Board President, Kevin Estrem, is optimistic that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Estrem urges fellow pig farmers to keep a positive attitude. People are going to keep eating pork. Every time we are faced with challenges on the financial side, it brings us stronger into the industry to do a better job of raising our pigs to get the best quality hog out of the least amount of dollars to produce that pig.

To keep the next generation in the pig business, Estrem says you need to be honest about the swine business. He says, “You have to be upfront honest with them, that we don’t make a lot of money. We handle a lot of money, but you don’t make a lot of money. We’re in it for the enjoyment of actually producing food — people need food, there’s always going to be demand there. There are long hours and hard work, but I think just being your own boss and working with family members is great. You can’t paint a rosy picture because of the times we’re in now, but we have had some fantastic years.”

5. Hurricane couldn’t wash out high level of pig care
Preparation, dedication and cooperation.

Those three simple words are what make any successful hog operation, or farm in general, work smoothly. Jan Archer, president of the National Pork Board and a producer from Goldsboro, N.C., says those three words had a greater significance recently as her home area was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew.

We Care principles of ethical hog care were practiced to a “T,” despite hog producers in the southeastern U.S. having to battle Hurricane Matthew.

“I am really proud of the fact that the pork industry developed the six We Care principles, and I will tell you that over the past week, I have seen these ethical principles lived out in a way I never expected, a way I never hoped to see, but I am so gratified that I can really confidently talk about how pig farmers really live those six principles every day in everything they did. That included taking animals off the farms before the hurricane hit, staying with their animals during the storm, they always made sure their pigs had feed and water.”

6. Don’t skip the consumer connection
Many times over, Illinois pig farmers are reminded by their Chicagoan neighbors that the consumer wants to know how pork is brought to their tables. They are discussing activities on the farm and asking all farmers and ranchers to be more transparent.

Bob Frase, Illinois Pork Producers Association president, says “Connecting with consumers is not just about promoting pork but telling our story. We need to tell the consumers who and what we are and why we are doing this.”

Communicating with the consumer can be simple. Frase points out; it is just about telling a straight forward account of raising pigs in the state. Illinois pork producers are taking every opportunity to do just that by telling their story and bonding over delicious pork — not just during Pork Month but all year long.

7. It takes every pig farmer to tell the story
Consumers often receive misinformation about what actually happens in the pig barns. America’s Pig Farmer of the Year, Brad Greenway, firmly believes that efforts to keep pigs healthy and safe by imposing strict biosecurity measures also closes the barns off to the world. He says, “When we shut the doors, I think we shut the public off.”

Greenway encourages all pig farmers to tell their stories and have more conversations with the public. He advises the average consumer does not want to know all the finite details about pork production. They just want to know who is raising the pigs and producing pork for their plates.

“I am optimistic about this next generation coming back. They are more adapted to doing social media and taking a picture of their kids in the barns and on the combines. The next generation is going to get that message out so much faster than I ever did and definitely faster than my dad did. Going forward, that is a good thing,” Greenway concludes.

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