Pork Board President Terry O’Neel sees value in reaching out
It’s only fitting that Terry O’Neel calls Friend, Nebraska, his hometown. Serving as president of the National Pork Board since last June, he’s built bridges on behalf of pork with everybody from his neighbors down the road to key export buyers around the globe.
“Much of the success we enjoy as pork producers stems from the connections we make and the relationships we build,” O’Neel said. “No matter what group I’m talking to, people want to know more about the farmers that raise their food.”
O’Neel and his wife, Diane, along with their son, Ethan, and his wife, Kayla, own and operate a 500-sow farrow-to-finish farm that markets 12,000 pigs annually. Diane also works for the Farm Service Agency, and their daughter, Danielle, works for Smithfield Foods.
‘‘I love farm life and am proud to be a fourth-generation farmer, but I didn’t start raising pigs until after I graduated from the University of Nebraska,” said O’Neel, adding that today’s pork industry offers young people many opportunities to get involved in agriculture.
“We started small and built from there,” O’Neel said. “It’s provided a good life and a great place to raise our family. And I never get tired of seeing new piglets being born and then providing the care they need through marketing.”
As the O’Neels’ pig farm grew, so did his commitment to the pork industry. He first got involved in his local pork producers association, followed by stints on the board of directors and as president of the Nebraska State Pork Association. In 2013, he was elected to the National Pork Board.
Starts at Home
O’Neel’s passion for pork and his penchant for building bridges starts literally at home, or more specifically, in the hog barns. He and Diane have hosted visitors for years, giving local school classrooms, 4-H clubs, civic groups, foreign guests and key influencers a firsthand look at how they raise pigs.
“As farmers, it’s easy for us to quietly go about our job of raising healthy pigs and high-quality pork,” O’Neel said. “But we have to remember that many people are so removed from agriculture that they don’t understand why or how we do things. We need to give them facts in hope of changing their perceptions.”
He added, “For example, visitors are often surprised by our barns’ cleanliness and low odor, as well as by the pigs’ obvious comfort.”
Far from Home
On the other side of the globe last fall, building bridges remained top of mind for the O’Neels. They took part in the Pork Checkoff’s fact-finding mission to Japan and China.
“We focused on learning more about opportunities and challenges in these critical export markets, meeting with processors, distributors, retailers and importers,” O’Neel said. “With our emphasis on expanding pork exports, it’s hard to put a value on making those one-on-one connections.”
Like the visitors he welcomes to his farm back home, the Chinese and Japanese representatives had questions about how U.S. pork is raised and about its safety, O’Neel said.
“Through meetings and presentations, we shared our story,” O’Neel said. “The export business is all about relationships, so anytime we can strengthen them, that is good news.”
He welcomed the opportunity to meet with some Chinese producers while there.
“There no doubt are differences between us, but we had more in common than we thought,” O’Neel said. “Again, it’s powerful to meet with somebody one on one.”
O’Neel is excited about the Checkoff’s new domestic marketing strategy, which shifts from a consumer-advertising model to one that will make strategic business-to-business partnerships throughout the supply chain.
“We look forward to the new opportunities to come from building these strong bonds,” O’Neel said. “And by continuing to share our farm stories, we can only make the bonds stronger, benefiting us all.