In this edition of Pork Pod, National Pork Board President Terry O’Neel previews the efforts of the Pork Checkoff for the year ahead. O’Neel, who farms at Friend, Nebraska, outlines a new communications strategy and more.
Terry O'Neel, President, National Pork Board, Producer, Friend, Neb.
Don Wick: 00:04 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines Iowa, it’s Pork Pod. Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. This is Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff. And today our guest is Terry O’Neel, pork producer from Friend Nebraska and president of the National Pork Board. Terry, if we can, let’s take time to look back on this past year and look ahead as we move into these early days of 2018. From a Pork Checkoff standpoint, do you, from that perspective, what do you see as the highlights of this past year Terry?
Terry O’Neel: 00:39 Well it’s been a very successful year as far as pork production goes because we’ve had better markets than we expected. Therefore, our revenue coming to the Pork Board is much better than we expected. We were pretty conservative in our estimates when we started our budget process, but we’re going to end the year very well. As many other pork producers will. Kind of the bright spot in the ag community right now as far profitability.
Don Wick: 01:05 And it comes at a time when you’re dealing with some pretty large numbers out there.
Terry O’Neel: 01:10 Yeah. It’s really surprising how strong the futures markets have stayed. You get somewhat a little bit bearish or poor or neutral report on hogs and pigs and futures go up. So that’s encouraging and really we’re in a pretty strong position right now as far as the futures markets go, so it looks really profitable for 2018 as far as being able to lock some profits in with low feed costs.
Don Wick: 01:38 So this past year from in your role as leading the National Pork Board, you always look at some of those key demand focuses and you really have kind of a change in effort, especially in the communications strategy, your marketing strategy as you move into the New Year as well.
Terry O’Neel: 01:56 Yes. We’ve been working on the domestic marketing business to business strategy, basically this whole year, and it should get into the major launch in early 2018. We want to work closely with individual businesses and help them do marketing versus trying to do a commodity blanket marketing program, which it just gotten so expensive to advertise in a broad fashion. We want to be more targeted with producer Checkoff dollars and work closely with you know the people who are processing, people in retail, and people are basically at the cutting edge of selling a product domestically. And if we can help them, be their go-to person as far as market intelligence and bolster what they’re doing already, I think we can be more effective with our producer dollars.
Don Wick: 02:53 Really you take on an advisory role and provide, as you said, market intelligence to that retailer, food service, packer, processor. That’s got to be pretty important.
Terry O’Neel: 03:05 I think it is very important. We’ve seen it happen in other commodities. You just can’t afford to go out and blanket advertise anymore. The cost of advertising is way too expensive and this is more strategic, more pinpoint strategy. And I think it’s going to be very effective. We’re really looking forward to. It’s going to be a change, you know, that our shelf was kind of bare as far as our intelligence we’ve gathered over the years. As far as this type of strategy, we’re more in the consumer strategy. And we had a lot of intel there, but we need to look more at digital strategies which are very popular these days, especially with millennials. And it’s really changing on how we focus on marketing at the Pork Board.
Don Wick: 03:56 What about on the export side, what have we seen this past year? What do you expect in ‘ 18?
Terry O’Neel: 04:00 Exports have been very strong this year. We’re really happy. We’ve been fighting back to gain some business back that we lost a few years back when there was a west coast slowdown and when we had PEDV. Kind of slowed things down for us because we had lower supply and we weren’t able to fill those markets. And we’re visiting our buyers in other countries and we’ve gone to Mexico, we’ve gone to Japan, we’ve gone to China. Those are our major markets and we, you know, try to reinforce that we are a consistent, dependable supplier of pork at a very affordable price, very high quality for those markets.
Don Wick: 04:50 I look a year ago and we were talking all about antibiotic resistance and new regs from the government. How did we maneuver through that and where do we stand today.?
Terry O’Neel: 05:01 I think we maneuvered really well through that. From the feedback I’m getting we’ve set up the call center and I think we only had two calls. So there weren’t a lot of problems with the conversion over to, you know, the VFD program and all that as far as are being in compliance. We’ll see how everything shakes out down the road as far as any type of spot checks or any type of deals that the government comes down with. But I think we’re really doing well as far as that goes. Some of the feedback I’ve heard, anecdotal evidence, we’re using less antibiotics than we have before in the past, particularly in the feed. So I think we’re heading in the right direction. We know the antibiotics are very important to our production because, you know pigs, like humans, do get sick, so we want to preserve that for our producers, but we know we can always get better as far as our practices to reduce use of antibiotics.
Don Wick: 06:06 We’ve seen those social issues have a major influence on animal agriculture, really all of agriculture, in recent years. Is that part of the strategy, is that part of the conversation as we move forward, Terry?
Terry O’Neel: 06:20 It’s definitely part of the conversation. We are revamping our Sustainability Committee to include social responsibility. And actually I’m going to be on the phone later on today with an individual that is a third party that’s working with us and helping us develop that strategy for social responsibility. We know it’s very important to a lot of consumers out there, particularly the millennials these days, are concerned about how their food is raised and we know that we need to constantly improve in our practices. We need to address the issues that confront us as far as people’s concern about social responsibility.
Don Wick: 07:05 You talk about some of the committees that you have. That’s one thing that I hope producers realize, how much grassroots involvement there is in that Checkoff and really what kind of strength you have with your staff, as well.
Terry O’Neel: 07:18 There is still a lot of grassroots efforts, believe it or not, it’s not top down, it’s bottom up here at Pork Board. Our committees are very involved in what we’re doing, all the way from Budget Committee to Animal Health Committees to Domestic Marketing. We’ve actually just changed the name of our export marketing committee. Basically the Trade Committee, and we’re changing it now to International Marketing because we know that we need to focus on, the research that needs to be done in international marketing at the Pork Board. And we’re going to let our sister organization, National Pork Producers Council, take care of the trade issues, the policy issues, if you will. And this new name seems more fitting for us though. Yeah the committees are very important at National Pork Board.
Don Wick: 07:18 Any other things on the table, on the agenda, as we look into this new year term?
Terry O’Neel: 08:18 If you haven’t checked it out, earlier on this month we started our new web site and it is now a consolidated web site. It is very easy to maneuver through and it follows our We Care principles and basically, you click on the icon to learn more about different things and it’s very user friendly. We had at one time over 26 different websites and they’ve worked very hard in the IT department and whittled it down to now one web site that is continuing to build, it is just a start program right now, but it seems to be building really well and we’re going to continue to add to that single web site. I think it will give us more strength in the digital field.
Don Wick: 09:00 Terry O’Neill from the National Pork Board. Thanks to you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit pork.org.