Partnering with a competitor may be a business strategy that sends chills down your back and makes your stomach turn. It is an idea that is just outside the comfort zone yet the benefits could be more substantial than boosting your profit margin.
At the 2017 Allen D. Leman Swine Conference, Rebecca Liu, director of joint marketing programs at Lancaster University introduced the concept of Co-opetition — the act of cooperation between competing companies. Liu says, “Cooperation works well, it inspires you to push your limits and accomplish things you once thought were impossible.”
Collaborating with a competitor can also help to build an even better pork industry. Co-opetition was a concept the late-Bob Morrison embraced. He always stressed working toward the common good rather than the good for the individual. Morrison often asked others in the swine business, “Are you contributing to the greater good?”
In a competitive world, it is easy to get caught up in the numbers, striving to make a profit. Yet, some business strategies are more than economic gain. Despite the different ways pigs are raised on individual farms, it takes the entire industry to put pork on the global table.
Gary Louis, executive vice president at Seaboard Foods, and Noel Williams, chief operating officer for Iowa Select Farms, both agree that sharing information on pig health, developing a national disease control strategy and sending non-conflicting messages to society can assist the U.S. pork industry to thrive.
A healthy U.S. swine herd is one that’s globally competitive. The U.S. hog industry learned many lessons during the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus outbreak, but the most prominent one was the necessity to share herd health information.
“We strongly feel the area of health is an area that we really need to share information with the rest of the industry,” explains Louis. “We need to continue to share information from a production system to help the overall industry to stimulant thought.”
PEDV moved swiftly throughout the United States before the industry had time to evaluate and quantify it. Fast thinking, industry collaboration and openly sharing information help build a strategy for control and biosecurity. “I never saw an industry come together so quickly for a common issue and common cause as it did with PEDV. It brought more communication, more cooperation than any other event in my career,” claims Williams.
Williams recalls on a Saturday morning conference after the industry announcement of the PEDV outbreak. He was impressed with the level of openness by producers, veterinarians, association leaders and academia. The spirit to protect the industry from a widespread threat was evident. In the end, the coordinated effort reduced an outbreak that could have collapsed the entire pork sector to a manageable effort.
He further explains coordinated projects like the Bob Morrison Swine Health Monitoring Project helps all farms to improve herd health by sharing data. However, hog farmers need to actually utilize the data presented to strengthen herd health.
“That data is only good as the effort we put into it. I see the benefit in it,” states Williams. “The only way that data can do the industry good is if we are timely and we put good information in and not seeing it as we are giving away secrets.”
Nevertheless, the mission of the entire pork chain is to sell pork for a reasonable price. Sustaining good hog prices is a group effort in preserving domestic and global markets. A foreign animal disease can shut down U.S. pork exports instantly, leaving 25% of pork produced to be absorbed by the domestic market. As a result, it will send hog prices along with other commodity prices plummeting.
Louis and Williams urge everyone in the pork industry to get involved in developing a solid foreign animal disease policy.
As it stands now, the U.S. approach to an FAD outbreak is antiquated, explains Luc Dufresne, DVM, senior director of health assurance at Seaboard Foods. “We basically use a 1950’s approach to a 21st century animal production system and disease management,” notes Dufresne.
He further explains that a stable FAD plan is a multi-prong approach involving reducing the risk of new introductions, develop an effective animal movement plan that allows pork to be exported from safe regions, validate antigen test on oral fluids and establish a nationwide FAD preparedness plan with adequate resources allocated.
In general, as an industry, we need to agree on the strategy and push a unified message. “It’s a long-term process with several hurdles, but we need to get on it right now and start moving our FAD prevention control and mitigation into the 21st century,” summarizes Dufresne.
Change the conversation
Keeping the U.S. swine business viable for the long term involves non-conflicting messages to society. “With some of the changes going on in the industry we definitely need to take some actions. The biggest thing that needs to be discussed is having a little more balance between what a customer demands and what aligns with sustainable production,” Louis states passionately.
It is fair for swine businesses to go after their share of the marketplace and create its own brand identity. However, Louis says the agenda of certain non-government groups are asking for some radical production practice and driving consumer confusing labels, such as vaccine-free pork. “They are putting a lot of pressure on our industry’s customer to provide these types of things,” explains Louis.
Unfortunately, customers like Walmart or McDonald’s turns to the supplier, asking them to make the pressure go away. In reality, Louis notes these NGO’s demands often increase the carbon footprint and cost of production at the same time decrease animal welfare, food safety and consumer confidence. Creating confusion among consumers ultimately erodes away at sustainable pork production.
“We need to change the conversation about pork production,” Louis emphasizes. “We need leaders to get involved and shift the discussion from fear and confusion to benefits and consistency.”