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Articles from 1998 In June

Zebra Mussels Process Manure

Early research at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL, found the zebra mussel removes solids and some nutrients from diluted liquid swine manure.

The researchers found a 90% improvement in the amount of suspended solids in the liquid manure. The mussels also appeared to reduce odor.

The zebra mussel, considered a detriment to freshwater ecosystems, is a natural water filter. It constantly pulls water through its body, filtering out nutrients it needs to live. The remaining particles are coated in a mucus-like film called pseudofeces, which settle out of the water.

Researchers now are trying to determine if the mussels or the pseudofeces have value as a plant nutrient. Researchers also are looking at how to include the mussels in a waste-treatment system.

Researcher: Dick Steffen, Southern Illinois University (618)453-6985.

Filling Foreign Niche Builds Berkshire Breed

It's been five years now since the American Berkshire Association (ABA) started helping Japanese consumers put specially trademarked American Berkshire Gold (ABG) pork into their shopping baskets.

Farmland Foods helped the ABA with initial development of the Japanese niche market. The packer and the association worked to capitalize on Japanese consumer preferences for the dark color, firmness and eating qualities of Berkshire pork.

The ABG program got its start when a Japanese customer approached Farmland Foods looking for Berkshire meat. Farmland Foods first tried a pilot program featuring ABG pork in February 1993. The Japanese have long been willing to pay a premium at the supermarket for quality pork.U.S. producers who are marketing pigs for the ABG program receive a $2-$3/cwt. premium (liveweight basis) over the base price for both purebred and F1 Berkshire crosses.

The ABG program has been growing steadily, breathing new life into demand for Berkshires. Three U.S. packers, Farmland, IBP and John Morrell, are now participating in the ABG program, in addition to Sanoma Corporation, a packer/processing company.

Steady Growth Mike Killingsworth, executive director of the American Berkshire Association's Berkshire Gold program, says ABA records show the program grew from approximately 200 pigs slaughtered biweekly as part of the ABG program in 1994 to 4,000 pigs slaughtered/week during the latter half of 1997.

"The annual number of Berkshire market hogs slaughtered for the American Berkshire Gold program grew from 88,000 animals in 1996 to 154,000 in 1997," Killingsworth relates. Although there are some larger herds, he estimates the average Berkshire producer operates a 60-sow herd.

Greg Innerst, Red Lion, PA, is president of the ABA. He says the ABG program has helped him sell more breeding stock, as demand for Berkshires increases. "Promoting a branded pork product has been a new experience for the association," Innerst explains. "It has been a learning process for us. The meat quality has really helped drive the demand."

A trademark was designed and registered to represent the ABG program. According to Killingsworth, a meat product cannot carry the trademark unless the animal is at least 50% Berkshire. Producers need a copy of the official ABA pedigree certifying that at least one parent was a registered, purebred Berkshire. The pedigree is evidence of the Berkshire ancestry. The gene for the black color does not dominate when Berkshires are crossed with white breeds.

Meat Quality Traits The ABG meat product must also have a standardized National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) marbling score of 2 (on a scale of 1 to 5) and a meat color score of 3 or 4 (on a scale of 1 to 5).

The eating qualities that make Berkshire meat so attractive to the Japanese have been documented by U.S. research. The breed received an added boost in 1995 when the NPPC published the results of National Genetic Evaluation Program (NGEP). Berkshires dominated the meat and eating quality tests of the NGEP, showing the highest loin ultimate pH (indicating good water-holding capacity and suggesting a moister product after cooking). The breed also rated at or near the top in color, visual marbling score, firmness and tenderness.

According to Shane Ward, Farmland Foods manager of international marketing and development for Asia, South America and the Caribbean, Farmland Foods has been instrumental in helping Berkshire producers fine-tune product quality. "We worked with producers to improve the consistency of the genetics that were being used," Ward says. "The whole carcass is cut differently for this type of market. Meat quality is crucial when dealing with the Japanese market."

Setting Selection Criteria The selection criteria for producers who can participate in the ABG program are quite strict. Ward says Farmland Foods won't accept Berkshire hogs weighing less than 230 lb. for this program. The packer requires participating Berkshire producers to market their hogs on a grade and yield basis. This has encouraged a more consistent product, Ward explains. The ABG program hogs processed by Farmland all go to a plant in Crete, NE.

Berkshire carcasses have to be segregated at the packing plant with special kill and processing times. Berkshires are killed on Wednesdays and Thursdays by the Farmland Foods plant, for example. Ward says Farmland Foods prefers to work with producers within a 100-mile radius of that plant.

Killingsworth says the ABA is considering a whole-herd certification program for ABG producers. Pork Quality Assurance Level III certification will be required. Killingsworth says ABG producers may also need to have herds that are certified as free of the stress gene.

The recent economic crisis in Asia has had a slight impact on the ABG program, but both Ward and Killingsworth say demand for U.S. Berkshire meat is still good in Japan. Killingsworth expects continued program growth. "All of the packer/processors the ABA has been working with have been optimistic about the program and the global possibilities," he says. "We are finalizing plans now for the ABG program to branch off into a domestic market niche as well."

Both Killingsworth and Innerst agree U.S. pork producers are competing in a global market. "Producers have to seize the opportunity to provide targeted consumers with the right product," Killingsworth says.

Debt vs. Investment

Should you pay against debt faster or invest the extra money?

Some people dislike debt so much they'll put extra money against their loans even though investing that money somewhere else would give them a better financial return. The question is, how much are you willing to give up to be debt-free sooner?

There are times to pay down loans faster than the lender requires and there are times not to. When interest rates went sky-high in the early 1980s, that was a time to pay those loans down.

With the stock market flying high the last few years, that was a good time to be in the stock market and mutual funds and out of paying loans off any faster than necessary.

Hindsight is wonderful, of course. Most of us can't predict well enough what the market will do to know ahead of time which is the best way to go. If we could, we would probably change occupations.

However, poking some computer keys or even pushing a pencil with the help of a calculator can help you make a more educated decision of whether you ought to pay down debt with extra money or invest it.

Take A 10-Year Look It would be easy to calculate savings and different investments if things like taxes didn't get in your way.

But they do. That's why you will probably come up with a more accurate answer if you look at each choice in terms of where you would be in 10 years.

Here's an example to start with. You have a $100,000 loan at 8% interest and amortized over 20 years. The regular annual payment is $10,185.22.

If you make regular payments, the loan balance immediately after you make the 10th payment will be $68,343.67.

$1,000 More/Payment If, instead, you have an extra $1,000 you can put on that loan every year, you pay $11,185.22 each time, immediately after you make the 10th payment, your loan balance will be $53,857.11.

Investing $1,000 a year extra in that loan - a total of $10,000 - makes a $14,486.56 ($68,343.67 - $53,857.11) difference in your loan balance.

But, that's not quite all. Paying faster means you paid less interest. That means you saved a little less on your income tax return. When you calculate that for a 15% tax rate, the difference drops to about $13,686.

If you invest your $1,000/year somewhere else and it earns 8% interest and you pay tax on the interest income each year, your savings will grow to almost that same $13,686.

What does that tell you?

All else being equal, if you can get the same interest rate on an investment as you are paying on your loan, it's a tossup. If you hate debt, use the $1, 000/year extra to pay against your debt. If you want to build some cash savings, invest.

Of course, "all else" is rarely equal.

There's another catch, too. Debt haters may be willing to give up some investment benefit to cut debt. Just don't get too carried away with that attitude.

Here's the advantage of investment over debt repayment at several different interest rates. These are the extra dollars you would have on our example 8% loan immediately after the 10th payment if you choose to invest rather than pay down debt with that extra $1,000/year. This assumes a 15% tax rate (Table 1 on page 43).

At those higher rates, the difference from investing $1,000/year - $10,000 total - is tremendous. At 9% investment rate versus 8% on borrowed money, a debt-adverse person might choose to give up the $532 to have less debt. But as the potential for bigger returns goes up, it's hard to justify paying off a relatively low-interest rate loan. If investment interest rate drops, you could cash in the investment and put the money against the debt and be that much farther ahead.

The 15-20% earning rates may seem high. But many stocks and mutual funds went that high and higher during the past several years, and are still going strong as this is written.

Your Income Tax Rate If you're comparing investment where the earnings are taxable as you go, the comparison we've shown so far will work. When you start considering investments where the interest is tax exempt or tax deferred, it gets harder to compare.

Start talking investments that are tax deductible and tax deferred and the comparison can be a little complicated. But your results can be very good. That's what you have with tax deductible retirement plans - IRAs, SEPs and Keoghs, for example.

It helps to understand compound interest. Say, for example, you have $1,000 and it earns 8% interest this year, or $80. If you don't have to pay tax on that interest earned, next year you have $1,080. At 8%, your interest income will be $86.40. You earn $80 interest on the original $1,000. Plus, you earn $6.40 interest on the $80 of interest you earned the year before. That's like earning 8.64% on your original $1,000 investment. At the end of the second year, you have $1,166.40.

With compound interest (earning interest on interest you earned earlier), it just gets better every year.

Compare that to taxable interest. In year one, you earn $80 interest on your $1,000. But, you have to pay tax, let's say 25%, on the $80. So you only have $60 left. Your $1,060, at 8%, earns only $84.80 interest the second year. After taxes take 25% of that, you have $63.60 left. At the end of the second year, your savings is $1,123.60.

In just two years on only $1,000, you would, in that example, lose $42.80 because of taxes.

After 10 years, your tax-free or tax-deferred $1,000 would grow to $2,159. The taxed one would grow to only $1,791. The higher the tax rate and the longer you go, the wider that gap becomes.

Analysis: If you put your money in tax-deferred or tax-exempt investments, you may be ahead compared to paying down debt even if the interest rate is less.

Tax Deductible, Tax Deferred IRAs, SEPs and Keoghs can outshine paying down debt because you are using even more money that would have otherwise been paid to Uncle Sam in taxes to build your own nest egg.

Of course, someday the tax man will come. We'll talk about that later.

Consider this: If you plan to put $1,000 into a regular savings account and are in a 28% tax bracket, you have to earn $1,389 before tax to have $1,000 left after tax. That's $1,389 X 28% = $389 tax and you have $1,000 left.

Therefore, with a deductible retirement plan, you might invest $1,389 a year instead of $1,000 after tax.

Using that as an example, here's how much difference that would add up to over the years. This assumes 8% interest compounded annually and the 28% tax rate (Table 2).

If you're one who has argued against tax deductible and deferred retirement plans because, "you have to pay the tax someday and the tax rate will probably be higher then," consider this:

You could pay $89,775 of tax on that $169,938 and still have $80,163. That would be a tax rate of 52.8%.

With good tax planning, paying tax at a rate that high shouldn't have to happen.

Analysis: Most producers can build more total wealth using extra money to invest in tax-sheltered retirement plans than using that money to pay off debt at a faster pace.

There are, of course, limits on the amount you can invest in the retirement plan. Once you've hit those limits, look at other choices beyond that. Those choices may include paying more on your loans.

Consider All Factors We've tried to present a pretty complete picture of debt repayment and other alternative uses of extra money you might have. Time value of money (dollars, time and interest) is a big factor in many management decisions. Taxes are a big player, too.

One we haven't discussed much is risk. Paying debt off fast is almost risk free (unless you pay a lot off and then default). Other investments have varying degrees of risk. Savings accounts are pretty safe, but usually don't pay the highest interest. The stock market and even mutual funds come in at the other end of the range. They are higher risk, but also hold the opportunity for higher return. They can also result in a loss.

Your risk tolerance and personality are also factors to consider in making the decision of where to put extra money.

Your investment style may be like the farmer who was surprised when told that a lot of producers do invest in retirement plans, the stock market and mutual funds, for example. He sees land, hogs and facilities as his entire investment philosophy. It works for him. But many other farmers prefer to diversify.

Exports: Building Pork Exports

Pork producers seek fair market access across the world for U.S. pork.

The world sits like an empty plate before U.S. pork producers. But world trade politics, high tariffs and quotas tie the hands of the U.S. pork industry. The industry faces many battles trying to fill that plate.

"Pork, more than any other agricultural product, is very protected because it is produced in most countries," explains Nick Giordano, assistant vice president of foreign trade with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). "Pork is by far the world's meat of choice. Well over 45% of meat protein consumed in the world is pork."

Giordano calls this a double-edged sword. On one hand, a lot of the world loves pork. On the other hand, many farmers produce it. This creates a political problem for foreign governments who don't want to hurt their farmers. "It is often a delicate and difficult matter to get them to open their market," Giordano says.

"Everybody is trying to keep out the 10,000-lb. gorilla because they're afraid we're going to put them out of business," he adds.

The inability to access these global pork markets is unsettling to U.S. producers with low domestic hog prices and continued growth in U.S. production. Stronger pork exports could pull up sagging prices.

Denmark continues to be the world's largest pork exporter. But the U.S. is a close second. In 1998, USDA projects Denmark's exports at 485,000 MT (metric tons). U.S. exports are projected at 449,000 MT. (A metric ton is 2,424 lb.)

"Most projections say we will surpass Denmark in a couple of years," Giordano says.

NAFTA Success Today, the pork industry is involved in trade negotiations around the world that could have a major impact on U.S. exports. Giordano hopes the results of these negotiations will be as positive as the results of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

"The U.S. pork industry could make the best poster child for NAFTA," Giordano says. "Between 1989-97, the export value of pork exports increased by over 208%. NAFTA is a key reason exports skyrocketed. It has opened up previously closed markets for U.S. agriculture."

Another trade success was the Uruguay Round Agreement in the GATT talks reached in 1994. The U.S. successfully negotiated more market access with countries like Japan. U.S. pork exports grew 85% in value since the agreement went into effect.

Both NAFTA and the Uruguay Round helped U.S. pork exports finally outpace pork imports. USDA projects U.S. exports to reach 6.5% of total U.S. production this year. Just a couple of years ago, the U.S. still imported more pork than was exported.

While U.S. pork exports grew substantially the last few years, the Asian financial crisis is expected to affect that in the short-term. Giordano notes USDA originally forecast U.S. exports to drop by 5% in 1998. But exports during the first quarter exceeded USDA's projections and now may exceed 1997 export levels.

NPPC is committed to building the U.S. pork export industry. "We are now the world's lowest-cost producer of pork," Giordano says. "We think we produce the world's safest meat protein. Without question, we're a force to be reckoned with."

Asian Potential Giordano hopes the weight of the U.S. pork industry will be felt when the U. S. enters the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) agriculture agreement negotiations. Recently, John Hardin, Jr., a Danville, IN, producer presented testimony at a hearing concerning agricultural trade with Asia and the Pacific to a U.S. House Committee on Agriculture. The testimony is in preparation for the WTO negotiations.

In the testimony, Hardin stressed the importance of the Asian markets to the U.S. pork industry. "Five of the top 10 export markets for U.S. pork were in Asia," he stated. "Notwithstanding, the uncertainty caused by the current economic crisis in Asia, for pork, the Asia-Pacific region has tremendous long-term potential."

Hardin asked for help in negotiating fair market access to countries like China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia.

The outcome of the WTO negotiations could make a big difference in hog prices down the road. Following is a look at the countries around the world holding great potential for U.S. pork exports.

China "Right now, the highest priority on our agenda, by far, is China," Hardin reported in his testimony. "China is the world's largest pork-consuming nation, accounting for approximately 50% of the total pork consumed annually in the world."

Hardin went on to state that the level of market access given to U.S. pork exports is "unacceptable." The Chinese level high tariffs and value-added taxes on U.S. pork, virtually eliminating trade. Plus, China imposes a "complicated licensing regime" that further limits access.

The U.S. government has been negotiating with China to lower some of these trade barriers. China lowered pork tariffs and allowed U.S. meat processors to export to two Chinese importers. But Hardin stated these reforms are not working and have allowed only a minimum amount of trade.

"We'd like to have major access tomorrow," Giordano adds. "But that will be difficult because China does not seem to be in any rush to join the WTO. If we can get tariffs down and get legitimate access, there is incredible potential."

Japan "Japan continues to be our largest export market," Giordano says. "And, we continue to be bullish on that market. We'll export a lot of product there in 1998."

The U.S. has the largest share of the Japanese fresh chilled market, which is a high-value market.

Exports to Japan last year were not up as high as projected following the Foot-and-Mouth-Disease (FMD) outbreak in Taiwan. Giordano says the lower levels occurred because Japan had more product in cold storage waiting to clear customs at the time of the outbreak than anyone anticipated. And, the U.S. had a price disadvantage because domestic prices were high. Finally, the U.S. dollar appreciated more in value against the yen than the Danish kroner and Canadian dollar, which also hurt U.S. exports.

The ability of U.S. exporters to meet Japanese pork specifications will help secure this market, though. Giordano says the quality of pork going into Japan is very good.

But Denmark continues to dominate the frozen product market.

Canada "Canada is a big export market for us and we are their biggest export market, " Giordano says. "That is fine. That's what open borders and free trade are all about."

Canada is expected to export nearly 30% of their production this year, half of it to the U.S. That makes them the third largest pork exporter in the world.

Mexico Mexico is one market that opened up after NAFTA. By last year, Mexico was the U.S. pork industry's second largest market in terms of export value after Japan.

"Mexico is a treasure chest," Giordano says. "It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next century because they're making all the right economic decisions. They have an extremely hard-working and competitive workforce.

"By sheer demographics, they will be eating more pork," he adds. "Their per capita consumption went down in the late 1980s and early 1990s, due to a number of factors like a hog cholera outbreak, anti-import policy, and a recession. If we got only half of that decline back (in U.S. pork exports), it would be the equivalent to almost all of our exports. It is a fantastic market."

Taiwan A recent bilateral agreement with Taiwan has opened up its market for U.S. pork. The agreement also includes Taiwan making a "down payment" on the pork exports. The U.S. will begin shipping pork this summer before any other country.

Taiwan's devastating FMD outbreak has totally changed its hog industry. Prior to the outbreak, Taiwan enjoyed an export relationship with Japan that circumvented theusual duties and gate prices for pork. That is gone now.

Giordano says he doesn't believe Taiwan's hog industry will ever reach the size it was prior to the outbreak. The tiny, mountainous island experienced water quality problems, blamed on the large hog industry. The government had been trying to reduce the size of the industry. The outbreak accelerated that effort.

"I think some Taiwan producers will come back and try to make it in the export market," Giordano says. "But I think it is likely they will be a shadow of their former self."

European Union The European Union remains the pie in the sky that U.S. producers cannot reach. "We would love to have this market," Giordano says. "If we could ever compete fairly, we would own this market. The EU is a high-cost producer for agricultural products. They have a totally, artificially managed production environment."

The struggle to fairly compete in the European countries started two decades ago. The most recent problem with gaining access deals with a Veterinary Equivalence Agreement (VEA). This agreement would recognize other meat inspection systems as basically equivalent. In other words, the U.S. meat inspection system would be considered equal to systems in the EU. Then U.S. companies could export to the EU.

Right now, the EU claims U.S. packing plants are not up to their standards, and, they will not allow product imported from all but a few of these plants.

On the other hand, the EU generally is free to ship pork to the U.S. from most of their plants.

Giordano says a protectionist attitude and politics have kept the EU from abiding by a VEA. Now, animal welfare, environmental and food safety issues have entered the foray. "The government has used food safety and other issues to promote their protectionist agenda," he claims. "And it is not driven by science, but by perception."

The EU agreed to put a VEA into effect last October, but failed to implement it, Giordano says.

Now, the dispute enters a new level. If a VEA is not implemented, NPPC is asking FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) to conduct a complete audit of all the EU meat inspection systems. This would force the EU to precisely meet the same regulations U.S. plants meet.

Many EU plants are not expected to meet those requirements, and therefore, would be prohibited from shipping imports into the U.S. As Giordano says, the EU can't expect to sell pork in the U.S. if they won't allow the U.S. to sell to them.

"If they walk away from the VEA, they have to understand that the U.S. pork industry will continue to try to level the playing field," Giordano adds. "All we've ever been after is fair market access."

World USDA 1998 Projections Production 83,384,000 MT Slaughter 1,063,173,000 head Exports 2,374,000 MT Imports 2,081,000 MT Consumption 82,897,000 MT % production exported 2.85%

United States USDA 1998 Projections Production 8,609,000 MT Slaughter 100,525,000 head Exports 449,000 MT Imports 261,000 MT Consumption 8,393,000 MT Per capita consumption 67.54 lb./person % production exported 6.5%

China USDA 1998 Projections Production 44,000,000 MT Slaughter 580,000,000 head Exports 90,000 MT Imports 3,000 MT Consumption 43,913,000 MT Per capita consumption 77 lb./person % production exported 0.20%

Japan USDA 1998 Projections Production 1,280,000 MT Slaughter 17,080,000 head Exports N/A Imports 740,000 MT Consumption 2,073,000 MT Per capita consumption 36.3 lb./person % production exported N/A

Canada USDA 1998 Projections Production 1,305,000 MT Slaughter 16,100,000 head Exports 390,000 MT Imports 50,000 MT Consumption 960,000 MT Per capita consumption 69.96 lb./person

Mexico USDA 1998 Projections Production 950,000 MT Slaughter 13,020,000 head Exports 21,000 MT Imports 47,000 MT Consumption 976,000 MT Per capita consumption 22 lb./person % production exported 2.21%

Taiwan USDA 1998 Projections Production 930,000 MT Slaughter 10,500,000 head Exports 50,000 MT Imports 5,000 MT Consumption 915,000 MT Per capita consumption 90.42 lb./person % production exported 5.38%

European Union USDA 1998 Projections (13 member countries) Production 16,483,000 MT Slaughter 191,933,000 head Exports 861,000 MT Imports 45,000 MT Consumption 15,420,000 MT Per capita consumption N/A % production exported 5.22%

Waiting Game

Producer cooperative appeals revoked feeding permit.

Back in March 1995, the optimism of a group of Carroll County (IN) pork producers ran high. The plan was to build a 2,400-sow complex, producing 45- to 50-lb. feeder pigs to be finished at each of their farms.

But a judge's ruling stopped construction of the Top Sow Inc. complex in midstream, placing the whole project in jeopardy. That ruling has been appealed and producer spokesman Larry Trapp is hoping for a favorable court decision later this year.

A Long Fight Trapp, a Flora, IN, producer, recalls when the project started, they figured approval would be a shoo-in because the north central Indiana county leads the state in hogs produced. Besides, Top Sow Inc. would help several small hog producers survive while boosting the revenue flow into area small towns.

But within one short year of planning, the sow cooperative hit a wall. By March 1996, neighbors had formed an opposition group known as Neighbors For A Clean Environment and developed a 15-point list of grievances, punctuated by water quality concerns.

That was enough to scare off some producer investors. Plans for Top Sow downsized from 2,400 sows to a 1,200-sow breeding-farrowing-nursery system with a dozen potential investors.

The group spent three months diligently trying to find the right building site. They found an 80-acre tract of land and filed for their first permit, says Trapp.

The first permit was approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). But the permit was withdrawn after the citizen's group appealed it.

By this time, the producer group was down to four families, with a final share controlled by Excel Co-op of Flora, IN.

To bolster the odds that the second permit request would not be appealed, Top Sow members worked with state officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and IDEM. NRCS conducted soil borings, did water permeability tests and designed the two-stage anaerobic lagoons.

Trapp stresses when Top Sow submitted its second permit request in December 1996, they didn't follow their amended request for a permit for a 1,200-sow complex. He says that's still the size of the operation they intend to build. But they changed the permit request to a 2,400-sow complex because they planned to over-build the size of the lagoons to dilute the effluent and lessen manure odor.

In early 1997, one month after Top Sow applied and was approved for a second permit, the citizen's activist group appealed. Their major complaint was that Top Sow needed to have gauges to provide the depth of the lagoons they were going to build. A second complaint was that there were no provisions in case the effluent pipes from the buildings to the lagoons leaked. There were also related questions about the depth of the effluent pipes and the clean-out ports.

But the key complaint was that an underground field tile was within 300 ft. of one of the proposed lagoons.

According to Trapp, Indiana guidelines state that lagoons must be situated at least 300 ft. from a drainage ditch, and not a field tile.

But state geologists are saying that there is an intermittent stream where the field tile is located.

Trapp responds, "We planted 180-bushel-per-acre corn through that so-called intermittent stream this past year, and as far as we know, it has been farmed successfully for the past 15 years."

Top Sow members looked at aerial maps dating back to 1939, and couldn't come up with an intermittent stream.

The producer group felt confident they were on solid ground and began construction in September 1997.

In a month's time, partial footings had been poured. Work had begun on some of the concrete floors and flush systems for the two breeding-gestation facilities. But that's as far as building crews got. Indiana Environmental Law Judge Lori Kyle Endris issued a ruling ceasing construction in early October 1997.

Work had not started on the farrowing unit on the site nor the two nurseries to be built a quarter-mile away.

After the judge's ruling, Trapp says they dug up that field tile and learned that it was really more than 300 ft. away from the perimeter of the lagoon.

"So Top Sow meets the guidelines, but the court's ruling still stands," he says.

According to Trapp, Top Sow members have done everything they can to work with the citizen's group.

In short, if the court ruling stands that field tiles are waterways, there are larger implications for the state's crop and livestock producers. Currently, there are rules against spraying insecticides, herbicides and pesticides within certain distances from a waterway. Likewise, separation distances from waterways for applying manure and fertilizer must be adhered to. But the court ruling, as it stands, would make it illegal to spray or apply those chemical substances on many Indiana crop fields, explains Trapp.

And that ruling could crush the producer group's plans. Members have already spent around $120,000 on construction and at least half that again in lawyer's fees to keep the fight going.

Trapp shakes his head while noting that all the members of Top Sow are 100-200-sow producers, trying to build for the future. And, Excel Co-op General Manager George Green's vision that Top Sow would be a prototype for other Carroll County pork producers is in serious danger of fading away.

Commercial Boar Studs Outpace On-Farm Units

The trend seems clear. More pork producers are dumping on-farm boar collection, opting instead to have semen delivered for use in their AI (artificial insemination) programs.

For many just switching to AI, the choice may be one of convenience more than cost.

Although substantial cost savings can be gained with on-farm boar collection as unit size increases, more and more producers say they would rather not mess with the collecting or the lab work, explains Malcolm De Kryger, vice president of business development for Belstra Milling Co. Inc., DeMotte, IN.

De Kryger supervises Belstra Milling's four gilt multiplier farms, 4,500 head in all, supplied by Pig Improvement Company (PIC). He also oversees an 84-head boar stud that sells semen on contract to its PIC customers.

The boar stud, Belvarken AI Center at St. Anne, IL, just across the north central Indiana border, is very isolated in a converted cattle shed. Since it opened two years ago, Chrissy McElfresh has been the farm manager. With the help of three assistants, they hand deliver nearly all semen orders, on a route that extends up to 150 miles away.

Commercial Stud Customer Mike Parsley, manager of United Feeds' 800-sow, farrow-to-finish research farm at Sheridan, IN, is one of the center's customers.

"They have an advantage over a farm like us that would collect all of our own semen. They have the consistent skill level to put out some good quality semen of high genetic potential," Parsley says.

Parsley doesn't think size of an operation has much to do with whether you should buy boar semen or collect it yourself. "I think even if you have 5, 000 sows, you should still purchase semen from a boar stud. That boar stud should be off the farm because of the skill level that is required, and it should have someone with specialized training do that job."

When United Feeds' started its research farm, it was the breeding manager's job to collect boars, process semen, AI the sows, vaccinate and treat sows and move sows. "It was more than one man could do," observes Parsley.

Too many tasks too often mean none are done well. "In the lab, you can't be pressured for time and do a quality job in that area. That was the case here, " he adds.

United Feeds decided to eliminate the semen collection job for their all-AI herd and started buying semen. The move made the breeding manager much happier, Parsley says.

When the initial switch was made, they encountered one small glitch. The PIC boar stud was in Minnesota so semen was sent by overnight mail. "There were some minor quality problems, but really more a discomfort level that it came from so far away," he notes.

Because United Feeds was already a PIC gilt multiplier customer, De Kryger had an edge in converting Parsley to their boar stud. After a short trial period, the United Feeds herd soon became members of the Belvarken boar stud. Now Parsley gets fresh, top-quality semen, hand-delivered, on Monday and Thursday mornings.

Early on, there were some headaches with semen from the Belvarken AI Center, but they've worked through them.

"We are guaranteed that there will be 3 billion viable sperm cells per dose of semen on arrival and if there are problems with dead semen, they will make amends," Parsley explains.

Every effort was made to select top quality boars they wanted semen from. And, although the semen looked good the first day and a half, shortly after it was all dead.

They contacted the boar stud staff only to learn that other collections from the same boar were alive and well.

The next logical question focused on semen handling after delivery.

Parsley acknowledged the importance of proper handling. "Quality control is number one with semen. When it is delivered, whether it is shipped in or driven in, make sure you check it right away and store it properly."

Parsley assured the AI center they were handling the semen properly. They had kept a microscope and a semen storage kit from their on-farm collection and processing program to ensure good handling methods.

And even though there were several incidents, each time De Kryger authorized complete replacement of the shipment in question.

"You should try and make sure the boar stud appears flexible and reasonable when you sign an agreement with them," says Parsley. "But there is only so much you can put in writing in a contract. Sometimes, there still has to be an unwritten 'honesty clause.'"

Quality Semen Production Similarly, there are no written, recognized standards for a semen supplier to follow, points out Wayne Singleton of Purdue University. Of course, the major issues are the health of the boars and the quality of the collections, he says. (See sidebars listing seven tough questions to ask your semen supplier, and, minimum contamination techniques for collecting and processing semen by boar studs.)

On-farm boar studs "absolutely can" achieve quality semen production, says Larry Rueff, DVM, Greensburg, IN. "But can every farm? No, they can't. That was part of the reasoning for designing our boar stud," he adds.

A serious shortage of qualified labor is another big reason Rueff cites for using an off-farm stud. "I never go to a hog farm that has enough skilled, quality labor," he observes. "We thought if we could bring some highly skilled people in to do the collecting and processing of semen and take those detailed jobs away from producers, it would take that worry off the farm."

Veterinary Clinic Stud So, three years ago, Rueff and Dennis Villani, DVM, Swine Veterinary Services, built Progressive Sires, a 50-head boar stud located just a few miles outside of Greensburg.

According to Rueff, the AI stud is an outgrowth of the veterinary practice and their clients are its primary customers. "We weren't interested in making genetic selections for our customers, but we did want to be able to give them genetic choices and then let them decide what genetics were the best for them," he says.

The veterinary clinic owns the boars and attempts to provide cost-effective semen for its mostly local customer base, explains Floyd Wirth, boar stud manager . Their goal is to provide 3 billion viable sperm cells in each dose sold. Semen is available from three terminal boar line suppliers - DEKALB Swine Breeders, Newsham Hybrids and PIC.

"Our clients don't have to worry about all of these technical details. All they want is a tube of semen," observes Rueff.

He continues, "AI consists of four major components - collection, extension, heat detection and insemination. We have taken two of those away from the producer. They don't have to worry about collection and extension of semen, housing, isolating and training boars. That's part of what they are paying for," adds Rueff. Most producers keep a few boars on hand for heat detection and for emergency breedings in cases where they run out of semen.

Costs range from $7.50 to $8.50/dose, including a spirette for insemination. Discounts are available for volume purchases. Rueff says the cost of semen represents only about 2% of the producer's cost of production, so even if a producer with an on-farm stud can save half of that, it doesn't amount to much. "We are not talking about a large cost for quality and service. For a lot of producers, that is a really good deal," Rueff says.

Producers who think they want to run their own studs should take a close look at their costs. "Are they utilizing as good a quality genetics as they possibly can? Are they getting the quality controls they are after?" Rueff asks.

For smaller sow herds doing on-farm collection, it's sometimes tough to justify the more expensive, high-ranking boars. The cost per dose may be lower for the same boar in a boar stud because the expense can be spread over more services.

Then there's the temptation to collect an expensive boar more frequently, so more sows can be bred to him. Don't do it, advises AI stud manager Chrissy McElfresh. "We have two lines of PIC boars and we collect them twice a week. If we collect them two days in a row, they are really down on the second day's collection. You've got to give them three days of rest in between," she says.

At Cambalot Swine Breeders, one of the Belstra Milling multiplier units, semen processing was one of many problems with the on-farm collection program.

"The laboratory was in the break room by the kitchen sink. It wasn't cleaned and taken care of and I don't think they had all of the proper lab equipment, " explains Paul Sheldon, who took over as manager in January 1997. Sheldon cleaned house. All current employees were replaced and the switch was made to buying semen from the Belvarken AI Center.

The results in one year were astounding, recalls Sheldon. Farrowing rate improved from 52% to 82%. Litter size went from 10.6 to 11.8; pigs weaned/sow/year climbed from 17 to 25.

Cambalot also turned the entire sow herd, bringing in all new gilts, which makes production improvements that much more amazing, says Belstra's De Kryger.

Rueff also feels a commercial boar stud can, and is willing to, turn boars faster than a 400-500-sow producer with on-farm collection would. As soon as genetic changes come along, we bring in the boars that reflect those changes, he says. Sometimes that means only keeping boars in the stud from 6-12 months. "We'd like to keep boars for two years, but it's not going to happen, " says Rueff.

Other common reasons for culling boars include deteriorating semen quality and structural soundness. It's important to look for the drop in semen quality.

"We have boars come in here that do great for a year or so, then all of a sudden you collect them, their semen is dead," says Rueff. They ate normally, acted normally and mounted the dummy normally, but semen quality was anything but normal. Those boars are usually done, no matter how much you paid for them.

With AI, producers of all sizes have equal access to top genetics from boars around the country, says Rueff. Their AI customers range in size from 20 sows to 800 sows. That's the beauty of AI.

Next month: A look at biosecurity of the commercial boar stud.

Whether you run an on-farm boar stud, or work for a commercial stud, University of Illinois' Gary Althouse, DVM, outlines these quality control steps:

Boar Prep/Semen Collection

1. Periodically trim hair from around the boar's preputial opening (sheath area).

2. If needed, clean preputial opening and surrounding area with a single-use, disposal wipe.

3. Evacuate any preputial fluids from the prepuce manually prior to grasping penis for semen collection.

4. Ensure that the semen collector wears disposable, vinyl gloves or uses a hand disinfectant (i.e. alcohol foam) between collection of boars to reduce semen contamination and risk of cross-contamination between boars.

5. Hold penis perpendicular to boar to minimize the chance of preputial fluids running down penis into semen collection vessel.

6. Allow the first few jets of an ejaculate (i.e. pre-sperm fraction which contains urethral flushings/urine) to go on the floor rather than into the semen collection vessel.

7. Dispose of rubber band and filter/gauze covering the collection vessel before delivering collected semen to the lab for further processing.

Semen Processing/Lab Sanitation

1. To reduce microbial contamination of extended semen, try to use disposable products when economically feasible.

2. When reusing laboratory materials which can't be heat/gas sterilized or boiled, clean using a lab-grade detergent with water, followed by a distilled water rinse and finally a 70% alcohol (non-denatured) rinse. Allow enough time and proper ventilation for complete evaporation of residual alcohol. Flush with distilled water or extender prior to re-use.

3. Disinfect countertops and equipment at end of processing day with a residue-free detergent.

4. Mop floor at end of day with a disinfectant, either a phenolic or formalin product.

5. Break down bulk products (extenders) into smaller units immediately after opening.

Boar stud consultant Gary Althouse, DVM, is blunt. "There is really a large variation in the quality of product coming out of commercial boar studs." The University of Illinois clinician says potential semen buyers should protect themselves by asking these seven tough questions of their suppliers:

1. What isolation and testing procedures do you perform? He suggests a minimum 45-day isolation period to make sure sufficient time is given for complete testing and observation. Isolation should be run all-in, all-out, and animals should be tested for brucellosis, pseudorabies, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza virus (SIV), transmissible gastroenteritis (TGE) and Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP). Although SIV, TGE and APP aren't primarily transmitted in semen, if they are tracked into a nave boar stud, it will cause boars to get sick and not produce quality semen for a variable period of time.

Other health monitoring procedures which should be performed in addition to blood testing include daily monitoring of feed intake, water consumption and behavioral patterns.

2. Are minimum contamination protocols used by the stud? (See sidebar page 37.) "Bacterial contamination of extended semen has become a pretty big problem in this industry," Althouse declares. Bacterial contamination of extended semen generally causes a decrease in product quality and longevity within 48 hours of storage. These bacteria are resistant to the antibiotics in the semen and, thus, are allowed to multiply in the extended semen. The bacteria utilize the same nutrients as the sperm, causing sperm to starve out and die. In general, these bacteria don't cause disease in swine.

3. Is sperm motility and morphology checked prior to processing by a qualified technician? Often, motility is checked, but not morphology. Althouse says published minimum quality standards currently are 70% motility and 80% normal morphology. Some studs even raise these minimum values if they know semen is to be stored for an extended period of time before use. Each ejaculate shouldbe analyzed.

4. How many sperm cells are in a dose of semen? "I like to see 3 billion sperm/dose of quality semen if the semen is going to be used within 72 hours of collection and processing," says Althouse. For commercial production, he doesn't recommend using extended semen much beyond 72 hours, and only if difficulties in semen delivery scheduling are the problem. Watch out for studs trying to compensate for poor quality semen by putting more sperm in a dose, he warns. This is not a sound practice, and can cost the producer in both getting females pregnant and number of pigs born.

5. Is the semen cooled to the correct temperature before it is shipped? Semen should be cooled and warmed in a linear decrease/increase fashion. That means temperature increases and decreases should be in a straight line and not fluctuating back and forth. Semen should be cooled to about 60-64F when shipped and stored at 60-62F until use.

6. Have appropriate temperature curves been developed for the containers and/or vehicles in which the semen I receive was shipped? "A lot of studs are now making sure that the way they ship semen actually controls the temperature at which the semen is stored, and that dramatic fluctuations in temperature do not take place during transit," explains Althouse.

7. Does the boar stud routinely look at the quality of the extended semen once it has been cooled? A sample of every extended ejaculate should be retained and checked at least every other day to make sure it meets expectations on longevity. Studs should notify customers of any irregularities in extended semen quality.

According to Althouse, the pork industry has become even more sophisticated about semen quality as more producers use AI. "I feel that the majority of boar studs are addressing the potential for disease transmission in semen; they are doing a good job. What I think we need to focus on now is the quality of the product that is being sent out."

Feeding To Heavier Weights

It's costing you more to raise those extended weight finishing hogs.

Many producers have moved to marketing hogs at heavier weights. Some have moved in this direction because their packer pays for larger carcasses. Others market heavier because they have the finishing space to allow it.

Whatever the reason, here are some considerations when finishing at heavier weights.

Throughput To market at heavier weights, the pigs must either grow faster or be in the buildings longer. In most cases, this can only be done by extending the finishing period. By extending the length of the building turn, a unit will get fewer pigs through the finisher per year.

This in effect increases the facility cost/pig. Turning a finisher in 18 weeks rather than 16 weeks decreases the turns from 3.25 to 2.89/year. This will increase yardage in a contract finisher at $36/pig space from $11.07 to $12.48/ pig finished.

Unless you have one of the few hog units with extra finishing space, you will spend more on contract fees or facility costs to market at heavier weights.

Feed Efficiency As pigs become heavier, they become less efficient at utilizing feed. This is true early in the feeding period as well as late. The genetics of your pigs determines how severe the dip in efficiency will be in your unit. Genetic variation in backfat, and thus, feed efficiency after 200 lb., is much greater than before 200 lb.

When we look at market weights going from 240 to 280 lb., some farms' feed conversions will go up 0.2 lb., while others will increase by as much as 0.6 lb. of feed/lb. of gain. With current feed at approximately $.05-.06/lb. of feed, each 0.1 in feed conversion costs about $1-1.20/head.

This of course does not include the additional feed required to get from 240 to 280 lb. of market weight. To calculate that, multiply the additional weight gain times the feed conversion and the feed cost/pound of feed.

There is also a common misconception in regards to average daily gain (ADG). Pigs do not continue to increase in growth rate as they get bigger. After about 200 lb., the growth rate actually decreases to 1.4 to 1.6 lb./ day. This is down from a peak of 2.0-plus lb./day from 140 to 200 lb. The growth curves vary across genetics but the trend is still there.

Space The desired square footage requirements for a finishing pig have been debated for many years. As we take pigs to heavier market weights, it makes sense that they require more room. If we give more square footage per pig, we also decrease throughput. We see pigs finished from 6.8 to 8.0 sq. ft. The ideal area is somewhat dependent on the system.

If the pigs are crowded, there will be more tail-end pigs, slower growth rate, etc. If the pigs are given more than adequate room, the yardage fees will be excessive. Each 0.1 sq. ft. increase in area allowance per pig will cost approximately $.50/pig space in contract situations. If the room is marketed on one day or "topped out," it will affect the square footage needs. If the biggest pigs are sold as they reach market weights, the square footage needs may not actually increase.

Equipment Most equipment can be used with various sizes of finishing hogs. We are beginning to push both ends of the growing period by putting weaned pigs into finishers and then taking out finishers from 260 to 300 lb.

There is a lot of difference between 240 and 280 lb. pigs when it comes to repairs in most finishing systems. Primary concerns are feeders, gating and previously unreachable objects. The feeders take a beating from the physical abuse of the pig. Welds and the metal itself become fatigued with repeated bumping. The gating repairs revolve around the welds, gate feet and latching mechanisms.

Be sure that your feeders allow for good nose, head and shoulder access for comfortable eating. The other concern we have with gating is the height. It becomes easier for the pigs to get over the top and into another pen as they get bigger. It is also easier for the pigs to climb over the gates if a barn has horizontal gate dividers.

We recommend 40-in. gating for heavier market weights. As pigs get taller, they have the ability to reach things that used to be safe like feeder tubes, environmental monitors, curtains, bird netting, etc.

Since ventilation requirements are based on pounds of pork, the requirements will need to be increased if the pounds of pork/room are increased. If you decrease pigs/room while increasing finishing weights, ventilation stays the same.

Health Although we expect a group of pigs to have an established health status by the time they are in late finishing, there are still some concerns. We expect to see death rates increase with longer stays in the finisher. Hemorrhagic Bowel Syndrome is a condition that we see in rapidly growing swine. Acute ileitis and acute erysipelas can strike at any time in the late finishing period. Hemorrhagic bowel and acute ileitis both cause a hemorrhage into the small intestine. All three of these conditions can occur without warning.

The Checkoff Challenge

Producers in several states recently received letters like this asking for a referendum on the pork checkoff.

More than 65,000 pork producers around the country recently received a letter, postcard and petition calling for a vote on the national pork checkoff. By mid-May, 4,000 signatures were returned supporting the vote.

This challenge to the national, mandatory pork checkoff was instigated by an organization called the Campaign for Family Farms (CFF). CFF is headquartered in the Land Stewardship Project offices in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN.

CFF encompasses a group of rural organizations mostly from around the Midwest. The groups range from Farm Aid and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center to the Catholic Rural Life Office in Sioux City, IA. For a complete list, see Table 1 on page 28.

Organizers of the referendum campaign say the checkoff has not served the interests of independent farmers. They cite the continued decline in hog farmer numbers and low hog markets.

"The farmer's share of the pork dollar has diminished significantly," states Paul Sobocinski, a farmer from Wabasso, MN, who supports CFF and the Land Stewardship Project. He says the farmer's share of the pork dollar went from 46 cents in 1986 to 35 cents in 1997.

"If (pork) promotion programs are going on, who is benefitting here?" he asks. He produces 700 market hogs/year from a farrow-to-finish operation.

The mailing that calls for the referendum sparked a flurry of responses from pork producers and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). (See sidebar on page 28.)

21,000 Signatures Needed A national referendum on the mandatory pork checkoff must be held if 15% of the nation's hog producers sign a petition within one year, according to Mark Schultz, who is with the Minnesota campaign and the Land Stewardship Project.

USDA estimates 138,000 hog farmers exist in the U.S. That means the CFF must obtain about 21,000 signatures.

USDA considers a hog producer a person who has sold two or more swine since Jan. 1, 1997. Only one person may sign for each business entity that owns and sells hogs.

Schultz says the 4,000 signatures were obtained within three weeks of the start of the campaign, which was April 29. This means the group has obtained 20% of the needed signatures so far. Letters were sent to producers in many states including Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri and North Carolina.

CFF's next plan is to go door-to-door with petitions calling for a referendum on the checkoff.

$3-4 Million Cost If the campaign to obtain enough signatures succeeds, a referendum will be held. Producers will be asked if they do or do not support a national, mandatory pork checkoff. A simple majority determines the outcome.

Cost of a national referendum is not cheap. According to Mike Simpson, executive vice president of the National Pork Board, it could run up a tab near $3-4 million. He bases his prediction on referendum cost estimates from the beef industry. This cost includes both expenses from USDA for the referendum and from the industry for educating producers about the vote.

The current checkoff rate is $0.45/$100 hog value. It generates about $60 million a year for promotion, research and consumer information programs. USDA oversees the checkoff and strictly watches use of the funds. Some 20% goes to state producer organizations. The National Pork Board allocates the funds.

Checkoff funds may not be used for political activities such as lobbying.

Return To Past The pork checkoff program used to be voluntary. In fact, voluntary participation among the nation's pork producers never exceeded about 62%. Producers in the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) were frustrated by participation levels. A common argument was - all producers benefited from the checkoff, yet not all paid their share of the cost.

So NPPC leaders went to Congress and lobbied for a national, mandatory checkoff. The Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act (commonly referred to as the Pork Act) became law in 1985. Upon initiation in 1986, the new checkoff levied $0.25/$100 market value on all hogs.

For the first two years, the Pork Act's legislative checkoff was considered a trial program. The checkoff was deducted from all hog sales. But producers could request refunds during that time.

In 1988, a national referendum was held to determine if producers wanted to keep the legislative checkoff. Some 78% of the producers voted in favor of the mandatory checkoff. Refunds were discontinued after the referendum.

In the past decade, pork producer delegates elected from 44 states have voted to increase the checkoff rate to its current level ($0.45/$100). The rate cannot be set higher than $0.50/$100 hog value. Any further rate increase must be approved by a majority of pork producers across the country.

The pork industry is not alone in a mandatory checkoff program. Dozens of agricultural commodities have similar checkoffs, including the beef, dairy, soybean, egg and potato industries.

Ironically, the beef industry may be facing a referendum soon, also. Petitions calling for a beef checkoff referendum are expected to circulate this summer.

The constitutionality of legislative, mandatory checkoff programs have been challenged in court. To date, the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled in favor of the mandatory checkoffs, stating they are indeed constitutional.

Table 1. Who's Who of Campaign for Family Farms

* Catholic Rural Life Office (Diocese of Sioux City, IA) * Catholic Rural Life Office (Archdiocese of Dubuque, IA) * Churches: Center for Land and People * Community Farm Alliance (Kentucky) * Dakota Rural Action (South Dakota) * Diocesan Coalition to Preserve Family Farms (Diocese of Sioux City, IA) * Family Farm Defenders * Farm Aid * Federation of Southern Cooperatives * Illinois Stewardship Alliance * Indiana Campaign for Family Farms * Iowa Chapter of the National Farmers Organization (NFO) * Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement * Land Loss Prevention Project * Land Stewardship Project (Minnesota) * Minnesota Project * Missouri Rural Crisis Center * National Catholic Rural Life Conference * National Family Farm Coalition * Wisconsin Rural Development Center

A call for a referendum on the pork checkoff has generated a number of comments from supportive pork producers as well as the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Following are some of these comments:

Small Producer Hit Hardest * Producer Randy Spronk, Edgerton, MN, writes: "I can't think of a more democratic way than the present system of funding these programs (genetic research, nutritional studies, Pork Quality Assurance and promotional efforts)," he states.

"Each and every producer participates - from the biggest to the smallest. Each and every producer of pork will benefit from these research, promotion and educational efforts.

"Minnesota is currently funding a three-year project on food safety. The recall of one shipment of pork will have damaging effects on you as a producer, even if it wasn't pork from your farm."

Spronk went on to say that the largest producers may well be the ones who want the checkoff eliminated. They could use the money for their own research, research the small producers would not be able to access.

"The elimination of the mandatory checkoff will hit the small, independent producer that Land Stewardship wants to protect the hardest," he concludes.

Gallup Poll - 88% Support * A Gallup poll this past winter showed support among pork producers of the mandatory checkoff program was quite high. Some 88% of the producers answering the survey said the checkoff had benefited the industry through enhanced consumer awareness and increased sales of pork. And 83% reported they were in favor of continuing the checkoff.

Nearly 72% of the producers believed the checkoff benefited them personally. They cited increased pork demand and enhanced export development as ways the checkoff helps them.

The poll involved 506 producers who marketed 1,000 hogs or more in 1997. The Gallup Organization was hired by NPPC for the National Pork Board to survey producers. The poll is conducted annually.

Pork Most Profitable * In a letter responding to the checkoff challenge, the NPPC Board of Directors pointed out that the pork industry is considered the most profitable sector in American agriculture in the last decade. They cited the University of Missouri for this statement.

"We believe the checkoff had a great deal to do with this success," the board stated. "The question that must be asked is this: If pork producers don't work collectively - for the benefit of all - to promote their product and to develop the tools and information needed to be competitive, who will? "

The board also said, "No one, and clearly not NPPC, accepts the current price situation facing pork producers. It is unsustainable and must change. However, we have launched an aggressive retail and foodservice blitz, combined with our ongoing efforts on international market access, government purchases and credit guarantees. Once again, if we do not undertake these efforts on behalf of all pork producers, who will?"

Protein Regulates Zinc

A naturally occurring protein in pigs regulates zinc uptake. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia recently made this discovery.

The protein is called metallothionein. While zinc helps weaned pigs grow better, metallothionein keeps the pigs from getting too much or too little. It binds up excess zinc and prevents zinc from becoming toxic.

Metallothionein also metabolizes zinc from the liver and other sources.

Pigs should be fed supplemental zinc (3,000 ppm zinc oxide) at least the first two weeks after weaning. Then the pigs are "zinc loaded" and excess zinc is discarded in feces.

Researcher: Marcia Carlson, University of Missouri-Columbia (573)882-7859.