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Giving thanks this Thanksgiving

While we may focus on challenges such as labor, disease, inflation, generations before would note the staggering industry improvements made in recent years.

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With the holidays upon us it's impossible not to go through moments of reflection. We spend most of our time in "operations mode," knee deep in the tyranny of the urgent that dominates our day-to-day activities.  While the operations at the farm remain constant, the rest of life slows down over the holidays and we can review our operations through the unique lens of perspective that only time allows. 

When I'm searching for perspective on the current state of our pork production industry, my thoughts always end up drifting toward my Grandpa Johnson. My grandpa was a lifelong farmer, operating a diversified livestock and hay farm in southern Missouri. Grandpa raised hogs the way all producers did at that time – the hard way! 

Sows could nest and farrow in the barn, but there was no supplemental heat and no environmental controls at all for that matter. Pigs were raised outdoors and subject to all the challenges that come with it. Production metrics were few and far between; success was measured mostly based on whether there was pork in the freezer and the operation looks sustainable into the next year. 

Viewing our current strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities through the lens of my grandpa's view of pig production always give me perspective on where we're at and where we can go. While we may focus on the challenges that confront us every day including labor availability, disease challenges and inflation, my grandpa would be quick to point out that we have made staggering improvements in recent years. 

Yes, we have labor challenges, but we also have labor solutions that didn't exist in Grandpa's time. It's true that we struggle to have high quality and high quantity domestic labor sources, but it's also true that through our international workforce we have a massive pipeline of extremely intelligent and well-educated caretakers that can come into our workforce. I'd argue that a higher proportion of our animal caretakers have degrees in animal science than ever before in our industry. That shifting workforce dynamic is a huge opportunity for producers who invest in training their staff and adopting innovations that require a sophisticated workforce to implement the new technology. 

Yes, we have disease challenges, but we also have vaccine technologies not available to previous generations. Producers and veterinarians have collaborated to build out autogenous vaccine platforms to improve management of diseases we previously had to rely on mass medication for control. Veterinarians have a much greater ability to specialize and bring deep, species-specific expertise to their clients.  My grandpa's veterinarian was the definition of a generalist. Don't get me wrong I'm sure he was a good veterinarian but he didn't spend 100% of his time on swine medicine and as such likely wasn't as technically proficient as today's generation of swine-focused veterinarians. 

Yes, we have inflation challenges, a statement that my grandpa would have scolded me for bringing up. We live in a time of relative luxury compared to his generation. His family farmed through the depression and Grandpa never bought anything on credit. He limited his opportunities in this manner but he also simultaneously managed his risk. For those who do leverage their farm assets, there are numerous risk management programs available to producers of all sizes and scales. My grandpa's perspective on inflation is that you're a fool if you think it won't happen and aren't prepared for it when it does. My grandpa would have then pointed out that those who don't manage their risk well will have their operations for sale when times get tough, and in that manner, inflation creates opportunities for well positioned producers. 

What else would Grandpa Johnson highlight as opportunities to be thankful? He'd highlight that we have access to the best genetics in the world, animals with the genetic potential to have litter sizes he'd never dreamed of while at the same time growth and conversion metrics that facilitate feeding the world in an unbelievably efficient manner. Having lived through the Great Depression, the nutritional value proposition that exists in today's pork supply chain would hardly be lost on him. Grandpa would highlight that while it may not feel like it at times, our collective industry disease status remains the envy of the world when it comes to market access. Pork sales are a global industry and our domestic health status enables us to participate unrestricted across the globe. Lastly, Grandpa would be quick to point out how sustainable our pig production model has become. We feed corn and soybean meal to the pigs to produce pork, we harvest the waste created by the pigs and apply it to nearby fields to sustain the crop production and produce new crops for new batches of pigs. Through this model we can sustain our operation past our own careers and into that of the next generation. For a man whose definition of success was a sustainable operation, he'd beam with pride seeing what our pig farms can do for the next generation of farm families.

As you gather with friends and family for this Thanksgiving make sure to take time to share what you're thankful for. While there are always challenges and headwinds, we have been blessed to live in tremendous times for pork production. Any time you feel the challenges are overwhelming, take the time to find perspective. Look through the lens of others facing even greater challenges than you. Share thanks to all of those sitting around your family's table this holiday season and remember how blessed we are to get to enjoy the company of loved ones over a home cooked meal. 

Source: Clayton Johnson, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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