Neil Dierks, chief executive officer of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), has been selected to receive the U.S. Meat Export Federation's (USMEF) Distinguished Service Award. Created in 1991, the award honors outstanding figures who exemplify the exceptional dedication responsible for the red meat industry's success in building global demand for U.S. pork, beef and lamb. It will be presented Nov. 11 at the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in Carlsbad, Calif.
Dierks has served in several senior roles at NPPC since 1990 but noted that his initial interaction with USMEF dates back to his time with the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
"I am so humbled to receive this award because my first opportunity to work with USMEF was when I was with IPPA, helping host international buyers coming to Iowa and taking them on tours of the U.S. industry," Dierks said. "At that time, and even in my early years with NPPC, there was a conceptual understanding of the opportunities exports provide, but the United States was a net importer of pork until 1996. It wasn't until more recently that producers really 'got it' – when they saw the amount of pork destined for international markets and the positive impact exports have on the hog market – and they bought in."
One area in which Dierks and his NPPC team have had an enormous impact on pork trade is securing improvements in market access in key destinations such as Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Central and South America, the Dominican Republic and Oceania, where free trade agreements eliminated or reduced both tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.
"The reality is that before you can promote pork in a market, you have to have access," Dierks said. "I do take a lot of pride in what NPPC and the entire industry helped accomplish, and the small role that I played in it. I remember some of those trade policy battles, and they weren't always easy. But that effort has paid off by expanding opportunities for everyone in the pork supply chain."
Animal health is also a critical factor for maintaining access to export markets and keeping meat products moving internationally, and Dierks is pleased with the way the industry has collaborated with federal and state agencies to protect the U.S. swine herd from foreign animal diseases.
"Until African swine fever (ASF) became such a major global threat, our greatest concern was foot-and-mouth disease and that resulted in a vaccine bank being created in the last farm bill," Dierks said. "Most recently I applaud APHIS (the USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service) for creating the ASF protection zone for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of course, this effort goes beyond APHIS, and includes Customs and Border Protection, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and state veterinarians and state animal health officials also play a very important role."
USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom praised the selection of Dierks for the Distinguished Service Award, citing his lengthy history as a tireless and extremely effective advocate for U.S. exports.
"Having worked with Neil for many years on a wide range of critical issues, I can tell you he's a tremendous champion for trade," Halstrom said. "Neil is determined to shape science-based policies that give U.S. ag products a fair opportunity to compete in the global marketplace, and this is exactly the type of commitment that has made the United States a pork-exporting powerhouse."