Are you ready for tougher questions from consumers? Your answer better be “yes,” says National Pork Board CEO Bill Even.
Consumers are asking questions. As pig farmers, we invite them to ask us about pork versus consulting google or noisy anti-meat crowd. But are you really ready for the line of question coming?
Consumers are asking food companies to disclose more about pork suppliers. Who raises the pigs? How are pigs cared for? What is like in the barns? In turn, consumers are driving food companies to set policies for suppliers of pork.
So, what is next?
Consumers are going to be probing you about your feed suppliers. Can you tell the story of every kernel of grain, every feed ingredient that your pigs consume? Unless you grow 100% of ingredients in the feed rations, it may be challenging to answer what is sprayed on the crop, what seed is planted, what fertilizer is applied or how many times the tillage equipment ran across the land. Just sit and ponder on the multiple ingredients imported into the United States included in pig diets today.
Consumers’ environmental expectations are going to surface, fueling change.
“No longer are you going to ignore the environmental footprint of your operation,” stresses Even. “Wall Street investors or bankers are looking at sustainability as an imperative. It may become an entry barrier or alternatively may become an opportunity.”
The word sustainability is popping up all over food packaging. It is becoming more than buzzword but represents a set of values that consumers are demanding.
Can you recite the environmental footprint of your operation?
As an industry, research shows how farms across the United States embrace new technology and practices to improve sustainability. In a 50-year look-back completed by the University of Arkansas in 2012 — and which is currently being updated with data through 2015- shows U.S. pig farmers reduced land use by 78%, reduced water use by 41%, and had a carbon footprint that was 35% smaller.
As pig farmers, sustainability is on your mind. It is an important priority. You strive for preserving resources, so the future generations can continue producing food. Yet, articulating your sustainability story or meticulous documenting your environmental footprint may not be a straightforward task but necessary to sell more pork.
Like the discussion on pork quality, consumers’ definition of sustainability varies from the farmers’ definition. It will take a commitment and effort on the part of the entire agriculture sector. It will mean more transparent dialogues and a commitment to reporting and measure sustainability in a trustworthy matter. It will take technology, such as blockchain, to tell the whole pork chain story, addressing animal welfare and environmental questions.
While all this seems overwhelming today, it really means America’s pig farmers need to keep telling their story even if it is one person at a time.