If you ask Ken Maschhoff, a fifth-generation pork producer from Illinois, to define his year as National Pork Producers Council president, he will use just one word: “indescribable,” with an exclamation point.
“I knew the year would be busy, challenging and hopefully rewarding,” Maschhoff says. “It ended up so much more than that.”
Last year when Maschhoff took the reigns as NPPC president, he could not predict the issues the NPPC staff, officer team and nation’s pork producers would encounter, especially at a time of political changing of the guard in the White House.
A new presidential administration in eight years taking a fresh psychological approach to reducing regulations, while at the same time tackling free trade agreements with a diverging methodology, created whirlwind activities for Team Pork. “From the regulatory side, it was fun to be on offense because we have been on defense for eight or nine years,” he says.
Overall, he says it’s a breath of fresh air and a real pro-business attitude. “Historically, we have been going and saying do not put regulations on us that makes us noncompetitive around the globe with countries that do not have near the restrictions and costs and burdens placed on them. Just let us compete,” he says.
Looking over the legislative scorecard, the year brought several victories such as retracting Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s rule, ditching the Waters of the U.S. rule, rescinding the organic livestock rule, delaying the electronic logging devices rule, and ending the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s sue-and-settlement policy. Yet, one of largest wins was the declaration of mandatory price reporting as an essential service during a government shutdown.
The forming of unexpected partnerships and alliances distinguished the year as the NPPC team worked countless hours on issues such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and funding the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.
“In the end, the year was so rewarding in ways I could never expect as I gained allies not only amongst producers, farmers and consumers but others outside the typical food industry across the country,” Maschhoff says. “This year has forced us to look beyond our traditional friends and allies.”
Typically, pork producers do not ask for funding beyond supporting agricultural research, especially in the farm bill. Nevertheless, preparing the nation for a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak by establishing a uniform process and funding an offshore FMD vaccine bank is essential for the future of the pork and agriculture industry. The ask is $150 million a year to protect the United States from an outbreak estimated to cost $200 billion, affecting the entire agriculture sector and rural America.
Although the farm bill work is in the early stages, the feedback and broad Congressional support are positive for funding an FMD vaccine bank. “Once we got the folks concerned with national and food security interested, everyone started to see it is a cheap insurance policy,” Maschhoff says.
Indeed, trade is at the forefront, especially as President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on day one of his term and the near-death experience with the threat to pull out of Korean Free Trade Agreement. However, he says, “by far the biggest, single challenge throughout the year was navigating and attempting to neutralize the rhetoric talk around the possible termination of NAFTA.”
The NPPC staff and team has worked tirelessly on NAFTA, utilizing all avenues to influence this decision in a matter that is beneficial to the nation’s pork producers.
“We had to get truly creative in forming alliances and allegiances with a lot of folks we did not normally work with and had not worked with in the past,” Maschhoff says. “I strongly feel our efforts are paying huge dividends, and I’m very hopeful what I viewed as our largest challenge of the year will resolve in a successful and satisfactory outcome for agriculture and America’s pork producers.”
Maschhoff credits the NPPC staff in Washington, D.C. and Des Moines, Iowa, along with the officer team, working long hours and even holiday weekends for a manageable year.
If you ask him what the one thing he wanted to accomplish as NPPC president, Maschhoff will tell you it would be easy to say, “I did not want to screw things up,” or putting an end to GIPSA, or ensuring we don’t kill NAFTA. However, narrowing it down to one item he says he wanted to accomplish but couldn’t is reviving TPP or TPP 2.0.
“So much work was done, and so many in agriculture were counting on that agreement,” Maschhoff says. “It was saddening and frustrating to see the millions of man-hours spent shaping and grooming TPP just to see it go by the wayside.”
While he is hopeful the bilateral agreements are beneficial for America’s pig farmers, he still holds on to hope the administration will reverse course on that decision.
“Today, upon retirement, I would love to say that we made progress rather than being forced to watch the now TPP-11 come together,” Maschhoff says. “Seeing other countries taking all our hard work and benefiting from it. That is somewhat painful.”
No stranger to a leadership position, Maschhoff has served on numerous local, county, state and national boards throughout the years, along with being the chairman of Maschhoff Family Foods, and co-owner and chairman of The Maschhoffs Inc., which is the third-largest pork producer in the country.
From early leadership opportunities, Maschhoff knows gaining consensus among members is what keeps organizations advancing. As a leader, he listens to other points of view and works to bring people together and agree on the best strategies to move forward. “Truly staying in harmony and everyone pulling in the same direction is absolutely the best way to ensure success whether that is in business or an organization,” he says.
Maschhoff believes the future NPPC boards need to continue to represent the diversity among America’s pig farmers. That being diversity in identity, such as age and gender, as well as with size and type of operation. He challenges the organization to think about that more. All voices need to be at the table.
NPPC represents the interests of 60,000 pork producers. He knows there are days a producer with 12 sows in Oregon probably thinks the organization is not representing his or her best interest; while some of the largest companies in the country, raising millions of hogs, on some days think, “Why are we doing or saying that?” Maschhoff says. “It is the job of the NPPC board, and my job as a leader, to ensure the decisions we make are to the best of our ability for the betterment of the industry.”
As pork leaders serving on the NPPC board, it is essential to look at the big picture when making decisions for the U.S. swine business, considering how it affects all pig farmers and forgetting what is best for their operation. “When you take this job, you better be willing to take your hat off for your personal farm business,” Maschhoff says.
Still, the best way to ensure your voice is being heard is by getting involved. He encourages all producers from small to large farms, along with allied businesses, to be engaged. More producers need to make their voices heard in Washington, D.C., at state capitols and in their own communities.
“If we are not willing to roll up our sleeves and demonstrate our compassion and commitment to ensure the issues and policies that affect our ability and freedoms to operate effectively and efficiently are protected, no one is waiting to do that for us,” Maschhoff says.
For those who have never been involved, he suggests starting at the committee level or a state group and be willing to step up to a national committee, and potential leadership.
“You will find it is certainly very gratifying to know you are making a difference, not only for your own business but your fellow pork producers as well,” Maschhoff says. “Involvement is imperative if producers are committed to passing their livestock operations on to their child as well.”
Maschhoff’s year as National Pork Producers Council president is coming to a close, but the work on behalf of America’s pig farmers is far from over.
“People in this industry and this organization need to be proud and understand something — they are very unique,” Maschhoff says. “Their concern, care and passion for what they do, go above and beyond. I have a perspective that some people in our industry may not have had the opportunity to gather. I have been involved in other organizations and businesses and been on boards of some companies that have no connection to pork or agriculture.
"People in this business are very special and genuine,” he adds. “It has been an honor to have served as a leader, and I am humbled when I look at past leaders and think I am now part of that legacy. There is a reason we have been able to find, hire and retain great staff and supporters; it’s because of the people they are allowed to work for and within this great and noble profession.”