Innovation Acceleration

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In this edition of Pork Pod, National Pork Board CEO Bill Even outlines a new partnership to accelerate innovation. Technology is widely adopted in crop production, but there are opportunities available for the livestock industry. Even says the Pork Checkoff is trying to “jump-start” this focus on innovation. Animal health is the logical place to start, but this partnership will expand to other issues facing pig farmers.


Don Wick


Bill Even, CEO, National Pork Board




Don Wick: 00:15 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 Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board. And Bill, there is an innovation acceleration partnership that includes the Pork Checkoff, bring us up to speed. What’s this concept all about?

Bill Even: 00:28 Absolutely Don! So the Pork Checkoff is responsible for research, promotion, and education for the pork industry in the US. And when we step back and take a look at our role in research, as well as innovation on solving pork industry problems, it’s become very clear to our board of directors that emerging technology is a place that the Checkoff needs to get involved in in order to drive solutions out of research faster. Producers no longer can afford to wait for years to go by before solutions are provided to help them solve a problem. And so what we have done here with the Pork Checkoff and the National Pork Board was to partner in a new ag tech accelerator program that’s kind of bridging the gap between the west coast as well as the Midwest. And that’s going to involve Land O’Lakes, Purdue University, Elanco, Corteva, AgriNovus Indiana, as well as the National Pork Board and serve as kind of a platform where we can bring the top tier innovators, along with businesses that are interested in commercializing these products, and also work with the land grant universities and make these things happen faster.

Don Wick: 01:43 It’s interesting when you tie together Silicon Valley and agriculture, you tie together things like the Pork Checkoff along with the private sector and academia and the public sector. What benefit do we see from a collaboration like this?

Bill Even: 02:01 So when you, when you think about row crop production agriculture in the United States, farmers are pretty comfortable with technology and the work, the dollars that have flown into that space. You know, there are billions of dollars around precision agriculture and drones and different types of technology and self-driving tractors and on down the line. The ability to manage nutrients at a, you know, per square foot level almost, coupled with the ability to track and monitor weather in real time right there on your farm. But when you step over into the livestock side, it’s really clear that this area has been relatively unexplored, both by innovators, technologists and different companies looking to solve problems. So by putting together this ag tech accelerator focused on livestock agriculture, the Pork Checkoff really looking to jumpstart awareness, engagement and involvement with people across the industry. You know, we’ve got lot of really good ideas here in the Midwest, but in today’s world we operate in a global environment and we’re trying to identify other people that may have good ideas or solutions or research to help us solve some real sticky problems for pork producers.

Don Wick: 03:15 So Bill, is this primarily animal health or does it expand beyond that?

Bill Even: 03:20 It’s more than animal health. You know, it starts with the animal health space because you know, the number one thing that a producer worries about every morning is what’s the health and welfare of the pigs under my care. And so it’s a logical place to start, with Checkoff research dollars and Checkoff engagement. But you think of it as this kind of that’s the beachhead, and that the ability to understand what are other issues that are facing pork producers and how can the National Pork Board help serve that role as catalyst with a broader set of people in this new innovative approach.

Don Wick: 03:55 So obviously, announcement’s been made. What’s the next step? Where do we go from here?

Bill Even: 04:01 So next steps. We’ve created a new position at the National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff, director of emerging technology. We put that role in place last summer and this individual is going to then connect in with a lot of these major players. And a lot of it for us, to be honest with you Don, is just getting engaged, getting involved and getting networked with this industry and then sitting down and putting together kind of stages in gateway process inside the Pork Board that we can evaluate what are the problems that they would like for us to tackle first, you know, from the producer perspective. How do we force rank those and then how do we go out and essentially spread the word or incentivize, whether it’s research or innovation, through these accelerators to start tackling these problems? You know, if the Checkoff can de-risk some of this, I would say this analysis on the front end, it makes it a lot easier then for a land grant university to spin this out into a commercial setting along with the corporate partners. You know, the Checkoff’s role isn’t to be involved in the, you know, the private sector. But our job is to help kind of jumpstart some of this on the front end, hand it over to the private sector and free enterprise to move it forward.

Don Wick: 05:16 It really takes some vision for your farmer leaders in the National Pork Board to really focus in on this cutting edge type of segment of agriculture here in technology.

Bill Even: 05:29 You know, the Checkoff sat down, the board of directors sat down in November of 2017, over a year ago and had this on their agenda to start discussing what are some of the factors around emerging technology, what’s real, what’s fake? And then where’s our role in the role of the Checkoff. And when, again, you think about research, promotion and education, we wanted to think about how do we start to reinvent our research model? Partner with the land grants, but do it in a fashion that really helps jumpstart a lot of these research parks and the commercialization centers, as well as linking in with many of the for-profit companies, initially in the animal health space. Then looking to move beyond that. So we’re pretty excited about the Checkoff being at the front end of this first-of-its-kind effort in the US.

Don Wick06:23 Bill, if I can switch gears, just different topic. About a month ago you guys announced that MOU on the sustainability research with soybean and corn. Can you give us an idea from that initial setting down and signing that memorandum of understanding where we’ve gone from there and what’s the goals at this point?

Bill Even: 06:46 Yeah, so the National Pork Board, the National Corn Growers Association, and the United Soybean Board signed a memorandum of understanding early in November to really focus around sharing and collaborating on research and communications related to sustainability and the environment. The pork producers, as they look at this, really recognize that the lion share of our footprint comes from the corn and the soybean meal that our pigs eat. So it’s critically important for us to be engaged with those upstream partners that are growing the food that our pigs need. So after this announcement, the next step was really at the staff level to sit down here, between now and the first of the year, to take a look at what’s our research platforms look like in each organization, what have we gotten done, what’s left to do, how do we share that information with each other, and then how do we think about additional gaps in whether it’s research or life-cycle analyses or pilot programs.

Bill Even: 07:46 How do we share some of our scarce Checkoff dollars and be very responsible with them across the three organizations? I can tell you the Pork Checkoff has already developed six different pilots, really predicated around our We Care core principles. And we’re going to be looking to have those conversations with corn and soybeans on what role can they play? I’d say particularly when you think about nutrient management and what’s going on with soil health. We all have a vested interest in insuring that US ag remains productive and that both the corn and soybean industry, as well as the pork industry, has that freedom to operate going forward.

Don Wick: 08:29 Bill Even of 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