By Bill Even
As we prepare to enter the third decade of the 21st Century, it might be good to stop to reflect on how much agriculture has changed in our lifetime. I think back to the 1970s growing up on our family’s farm at Humboldt, South Dakota, where my father Neal and my uncle Loren raised corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs, hay and oats.
In those days, my father’s view of his role in agriculture was somewhat limited. Haul your grain to the local elevator. Truck your calves to the sale barn. Deliver your pigs to the Sioux Falls stockyards or the John Morrell packing plant. Collect your check and go back home.
Farmers like my father did not usually give much thought to what happened after livestock and crops left the farm. Why worry about what the supply chain or consumers thought when you are “just” a producer?
Just a producer. That mindset does not seem to fit anymore when you consider how the world has changed in the last few decades:
- Social media drives both information and misinformation about agriculture production practices into the hands of consumers in the blink of an eye.
- Consumers still want flavorful, affordable pork, but they have more questions, too. What is in my food? Where did it come from? How was it raised?
- Consumers are not the only ones seeking answers. Businesses are asking more questions than ever about how pork is raised, from interest in animal well-being to environmental stewardship and the life cycle analysis of the corn and soybean meal in the feed. Sustainability has become a strategic initiative for many major food companies in the supply chain, from Tyson and Smithfield to Walmart and McDonalds, just to name a few.
- These trends also have a global impact because over 27 percent of U.S. pork now competes with new competitors in the world protein market.
Seeing the Big Picture
To the pork industry’s credit, more than a decade ago pork producers recognized these trends and saw it was time to demonstrate a clear commitment to responsible pork production. They launched the We CareSM initiative in 2008 to show that America’s pig farmers are committed to ethical animal agriculture.
Ten years later, we have not forgotten that consumer trust must be earned. We Care remains a promise to make the pork industry better for everyone, including animals, farmers, food industry partners and consumers worldwide.
Now that we have spent 10 years building this trust and delivering results, it is time to evaluate what has been working well and assess ways we can refresh the We Care initiative to establish pork as the responsible protein of choice for consumers.
- We Care 2.0 – To meet ever-evolving expectations from packers, foodservice professionals, investors, retailers and consumers, the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council are investing in We Care 2.0. We Care 2.0 will help pig farmers remain proactive and determine what is possible and realistic at the farm level to meet growing sustainability and environmental expectations. We will meet these expectations by doing a better job of taking credit for our accomplishments and setting realistic new goals.
We have created a We Care task force (see page 12), plus we are building a series of advisory groups to bring more voices into the discussion. Representatives from farm to fork will help pork lead the way.
- Sustainability leadership – The National Pork Board recently welcomed Brett Kaysen as the assistant vice president of sustainability. His job is to wake up every day focusing on the pork industry’s role in sustainability and the environment. Kaysen brings a wealth of practical experience as a pig farmer, university professor and animal health professional.
- International marketing expertise – Since joining the National Pork Board as vice president of international marketing, Craig Morris has been leading new efforts to help make U.S. pork the responsible protein of choice in established markets such as Japan and Mexico, as well as in emerging markets from Asia to South America.
The Pork Checkoff also is working with the U.S. Meat Export Federation and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service at unprecedented levels to help U.S. pork compete in foreign markets, both now and in the future.
New Playing Field, New Opportunities
Bottom line, pig farms are clearly in the food business today. While it is a broader mindset than the production-centric world my father operated in, these changes create opportunities.
I challenge you to define yourself as a key supplier in a global food system as we take We Care to the next level. You are no longer just a producer. You play a vital role in making pork the responsible choice for consumers around the world. The Pork Board is proud to support you in this essential work.