Whether visiting with consumers at the Minnesota state fair’s “Oink” booth or meeting with celebrity chefs and bloggers in Japan, National Pork Board President Karen Richter is passionate about dispelling myths and misconceptions about how today’s pork is raised.
“For some consumers, science is almost a ‘four-letter’ word when it comes to agriculture,” said Richter, a Montgomery, Minn., pork producer. “They embrace the latest science and technology when getting a diagnosis or medical procedure from their physician but want farmers to raise crops and livestock like their grandparents did,” she said. “This means we have to reach out in new ways.”
The pork industry’s We CareSM initiative is one way pork producers are connecting with customers, she said. “Taking care of our animals, the environment and our communities is important to us, regardless of the type or size of our pork farms,” Richter said. “We Care helps producers share that story through the six ethical principles that we embrace and follow every day in our barns.”
As an Operation Main Street (OMS) 2.0 speaker, Richter has delivered that message at Rotary clubs, county commissioner meetings, veterinarian groups, high school culinary classes and other forums.
“While I’m not always successful in dispelling misconceptions, I enjoy the challenge,” said Richter, who added that her daughter, Kate, also is an OMS speaker. “I love seeing the surprised looks when people in the audience learn that we raise pork using less land and water, leaving a smaller carbon footprint, or that a pork cut is as lean as a chicken breast,” Richter said.
She added, “Making a difference sends me home with renewed energy. And sharing our success stories, such as becoming a more sustainable industry, also builds the drive to continue to improve.”
Better Ways, Better Days
Richter and her husband of 27 years, Dave, are always looking for new and improved ways of raising pigs.
They own a wean-to-finish operation with 600 hogs, contract 3,000 gilts as part of the feeder-to-finish operation and raise corn and soybeans on 600 acres.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in a nearby county and was in both FFA and 4-H,” Richter said. “While I didn’t necessarily enjoy memorizing the creeds then, today FFA’s ‘the promise of better days through better ways’ and 4-H’s ‘to make the best better’ have stuck with me.”
In an effort to make the best better on their farm, the Richters have conducted feeding trials with universities and feed companies, as well as conducted crop trials. “We almost always have some kind of on-farm research underway as we look for ways to do things more efficiently,” she said.
From Bedding Depth to Lower Temps
Richter also points to ongoing progress made possible by producers’ Checkoff investment, such as the following accomplishments.
• Research to determine the optimal cold-weather bedding depth for trailers and to find new biosecurity measures to fight PEDV.
•Development of an easy-to-use crisis plan that can be personalized for each farm.
• New nutrition information, such as the role of lean pork in weight loss.
• Successful efforts to make pork the fastest-growing protein in foodservice.
• Promotion of USDA’s new cooking recommendation for pork chops, roasts and tenderloins to 145 to 160 degrees, with a 3-minute rest period. “Many people still think pork has to be well-done,” Richter said. “I love sharing the lower cooking endpoints with consumers, foodservice operators and chefs so they can enjoy pork even more.”
While on the Pork Board, Richter also has had the opportunity to share facts about U.S. pork around the world, including a recent trip to Tokyo. The Checkoff promotes U.S. pork exports through the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
“In Tokyo, the USMEF is working with a well-known chef and food star to adapt some U.S. cuts and cooking traditions into the Japanese mainstream,” Richter said. “For instance, the celebrity chef is demonstrating to Japanese bloggers how thicker U.S. roasts not typically used there can fit Japanese cooking styles. Being able to export typical U.S. cuts adds value to producers.”
“From export initiatives to domestic efforts, I don’t think producers realize the depth and scope of Pork Checkoff programs unless they serve on an industry committee,” said Richter, who urges all producers to get involved at the county, state or national levels.
In addition to serving as president of the Pork Board, Richter also is on the Checkoff’s Domestic Marketing, Pork Safety Quality and Human Nutrition committees. “I think that I learn something at every meeting that I can take back home and apply,” Richter said. “It might be how another producer is dealing with a swine health challenge, new production techniques someone’s trying or a new pork recipe to try.”
A Shared Passion
Both Dave and Karen never wanted to do anything but farm, so they’re not surprised that their son, Brad, and daughter, Kate, want to do likewise. Brad is in his second year at South Central College in Mankato, Minn., while Kate graduated from college with a major in animal science and is at the farm daily. Her husband, Kyle Sommers, is a junior ag loan bank officer.
“Right now we’re in the transition phase, figuring out how to bring the next generation into our family farm,” Richter said. “Farming provided a good way to raise our kids, especially with the day-to-day responsibility of caring for livestock.”
She added, “We’re excited to see what the next phase of our farm life will bring, as well as what new advances and challenges are in store for the pork industry.