At the tap of the gavel concluding the Iowa Pork Producers Association annual meeting, Gregg Hora, a hog farmer from Fort Dodge, became the president of the organization of the leading pork-producing state. National Hog Farmer sat down with Hora on his first full day in the position to discuss the upcoming year.
NHF: How does it feel to be the new president of the Iowa Pork Producers for 2018?
Hora: It feels good because I’m representing producers and allied businesses throughout Iowa. We have about 4,400 pork producers and 1,400 associated members that are partners with the pork production systems in Iowa.
NHF: Tell us about your farming operation.
Hora: I farm at Fort Dodge, Iowa — corn, soybean and pigs. I am currently a contract grower. My pig operation consists of three finishing sites. I bring in 40-pound feeder pigs and finish them out to market weights which are processed here in Iowa.
NHF: What makes Iowa stand out?
Hora: Iowa is a leader not just in pig numbers but also in innovation with environmental and production practices. The pig industry structure continues to improve and change. Some of that structure change comes along in new technologies in sow housing, animal welfare buildings and how we do the environmental projects around our farms in Iowa.
NHF: What are the key issues Iowa pig farmers will be facing in 2018?
Hora: One of the key issues is the Iowa water quality initiative bill. The Iowa legislators just passed it. This is not an initiative just for crop and pig farmers, but for rural Iowa environmentally sensitive areas. The Iowa legislators approved $280-$300 million funding that will be utilized over the next 12 years. It continues to show Iowa is a leader in the Midwest for wanting to have water quality improvement projects. Iowa pork farmers have always been part of that conversation, part of the implementation of practices and investing a lot of their own money. The state of Iowa investment is for point and non-point source pollution activities. Iowa pig farmers continue to want to improve their disposal methods and proper handling of manure for renewable resources and fertility for crop farms.
The structure of Iowa agriculture continues to change, and pig production is part of that also. New facilities are being built because there are new technologies to improve animal welfare, animal efficiencies but also for the workers. Packing plant capacity is some of the reason for the changes. Improving rural Iowa communities is all about jobs. If we have more jobs and more economic activity, then we have a more-prosperous rural Iowa. It is one of the initiatives the governor and legislators have this year. We feel pork production is an important part of this. The two new packing plants give farmers more opportunity to get better prices for pigs along with corn and soybeans as we feed more pigs.
NHF: How much did the pork industry grow last year?
Hora: If we look at the demographics, Iowa pig production expands about 2-3% every year. With the new packing plants coming in, most of the pigs were already here. Transportation issues have always been important in live animals. What the packing plant expansion has done is given competitive opportunities to Iowa pig farms not to grow and raise the pigs here but have fewer transportation costs by shipping them out of state. This is good for rural Iowa because it provides more jobs and provides more competitive wages.
NHF: As new jobs come to rural Iowa, are you having more labor issues?
Hora: Labor issues are a concern. Animal production is very labor-intensive. One of the things we deal with in labor issues is where the workers are coming from. We know we have more worker programs with more foreign workers moving into the area. We advocate for legal citizens and legal working status. We understand there is a lot of federal legislation dealing with this right now. On the federal level, we have pork producers at the table like all commodity groups. Also, we continue to want to bring rural Iowa kids back to rural Iowa. There is a lot of job diversity not just in the production side but the management side as well.
NHF: How do we get the young people to return to a career in pigs?
Hora: I had a chance to meet some of the young people in our youth pork competitions; they are excited to be part of the pork industry. We sponsor a number of youth scholarships not just for incoming college freshmen but those already students at Iowa State University. This is important because Iowa State has a high job placement rate in competitive markets. Each generation has less contact with the farm. With agriculture in the state it is, especially animal agriculture, we continue to have new jobs that were not thought of five years ago. The companies at Iowa Pork Congress realize it is a buyer market out there and we are competing worldwide for good employees.
NHF: What are going to be the biggest challenges for Iowa pork producers in 2018?
Hora: The biggest challenges are continuous profitability and concerns about biosecurity. It is a high priority on our farms that we have strict biosecurity, so we have less opportunity for disease to be spread. We also look at our environmental responsibility we have to rural Iowa. An important part of it is environmental stewardship. Iowa farmers are always stewards and always want continuous improvement.
For people to remain in the business, they have to be profitable. And to have profitability, you have to move your excess product. We know around the world, we continue to have more competition. Recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed by 11 member nations, and the United States was not part of that. We know they are doing multi-lateral agreements right now. We believe and support the current administration in doing bilateral agreements that will continue to put the pork industry and other ag products at the forefront.