Many things get better with age, and the Ohio Pork Council is no exception. This year the organization celebrates its 50th year.
Rich Deaton, OPC president, says the Ohio swine business looks quite a bit different than it does today. He recalls in high school growing up on the dairy farm of his neighbors having 30 sows and thinking that is a sizeable operation. In those years, 30 sows would generate enough income to support one family in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Family farm has changed from owning the pigs to facilitating others in contract facilities,” explains Deaton. “We have a lot of contract farmers that make up the Ohio pork industry. We have a lot of dedicated, a cutting-edge producer here in Ohio that have done an extremely good job partnering with crop farmers in production.”
Just as the way farmers raise pigs has evolved over the years so has the state’s organization. “We have changed more towards reaching the consumer. The staff has done an excellent job helping us farmers to tell the story of pork production,” notes Deaton.
The Ohio Pork Council was established in 1968 when leaders in Ohio's pork industry determined it was a necessity to promote their own product. When the organization began, about 800 farmers dedicated themselves to this task. OPC now has approximately 2,500 members.
Deaton says it is a really enjoyable experience to be the leader of a state pork association. Yet, he knows the strong foundation leaders before him built. He praises them for remaining focused on advancing the industry and together worked to turn those challenges into opportunities, and opportunities into milestones. “I am standing on the shoulders of giants,” says Deaton.
As the organization has grown, so have the programs to promote pork, along with increased services for OPC members. Today, the OPC orchestrates new ways for farmers to tell their story beyond information found on the organization’s website.
Ohio Pork Council was the first state association to host groups virtually on the farm. Their pig farmers have walked students, teachers, adults, food bloggers and even consumers across the globe through their barns, visiting about how they raise pigs through the wonders of technology.
Just recently, the organization hosted a group of food bloggers. Just another example of the continuous effort in telling the story of pork. The connection with Ohio bloggers to share pork recipes and reach more consumers is beneficial. Blog posts, stories and recipes have reached a total of 887,000 views last year.
No matter if the discussion happens online or in person, Ohio pork producers have always welcomed the opportunity to discuss real pig farming and pork. “I think the Ohio Pork Council has always been on the cutting edge in how do we better meet the people in telling the story about pig farming,” says Deaton passionately.
Conversations about pork and food happen every day. In fact, according to Pork Checkoff research pork is the most discussed animal protein, grabbing 31% of the online discussion. However, the discussion is often without the pig farmers, and the facts are frequently missing. Yet, the food dialogue doesn’t just occur online. It happens in the grocery store, restaurants and sporting events.
U.S. hog farmers want consumers to feel safe about the pork they are eating by having confidence in the farmer's ability to raise pigs humanely. One challenge for today’s pig farmers is to raise the comfort level to encourage Americans to enjoy pork more often.
“How do we get the American public or consumers to consume more of our pork,” says Deaton. “The challenge here is to continue to get others comfortable with purchasing and consuming pork domestically. There is no one (U.S. pork producer) that can outdo us in the cost of production and food safety.”
While bacon is very popular among American consumers, fresh pork is not. Data from Pork Checkoff shows the U.S. consumers purchase fresh pork only 6.2 times a year. A number Deaton and his fellow pork producer realize is too low.
“I am excited about being in the industry. I am excited about the new technology coming on -like gene editing,” he states. “How do we continue to help the public be comfortable with this still a pig. It is the same pork chop my grandfather ate.”
As Deaton points out, it requires more and more one-on-one conversations. As more pig farmers tell their story, the more comfortable the public gets with a pig farmer as a neighbor and the person who raises their pork.