National Pork Board Works on Industry Priorities

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National Pork Board CEO Bill Even reviews the recent meeting of the Pork Checkoff board. From domestic marketing to African Swine Fever, Even outlines the issues addressed by the 15-member National Pork Board.


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. I’m Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff, and today our guest is Bill Even CEO of the National Pork Board and the 15 member National Pork Board met recently with the Pork Industry Forum in Orlando, Florida. And they worked on a number of issues. Bill, bring us up to date.

Bill Even: 00:31 One is the domestic marketing efforts that we have underway, the partnership that we have with Google and YouTube. We’ve had over 40 some YouTube videos put together with over 30 different YouTube influencers, they range from nutrition and health and family eating and barbecuing and grilling. And so we’ve had really good success with that type of direct consumer engagement. It’s kind of the new way to conduct that consumer advertising outreach that the Pork Board’s responsible for. I think that’s something that when we talk about having your Pork Checkoff moving at the speed of business, really leaning forward on how we’re approaching the marketplace. And we’re pretty proud. One of the videos that we put together on YouTube with an influencer, Basics with Babish is the name of it, that actually was trending on YouTube here last fall, which means it’s in the top three videos being watched on YouTube. And that particular Pork Checkoff YouTube video was actually featured at the Sundance Film Festival as an example of modern marketing.

Don Wick: 01:45 So more dollars will go to that area? More emphasis?

Bill Even: 01:49 Well, when you look at U.S. Pork production, we’ve been on an upward trend now since the 80s and every year we’re getting record pork production and record hog numbers in the United States. And you know, that that meat has got to go somewhere. And so the emphasis on domestic marketing is going to continue. We’re consuming about three quarters of the pork we produce here in the U.S., and roughly a quarter of it is exported. So the domestic marketing piece is really kind of keep hitting its stride, keep hitting its stride. If we’re going to be able to successfully get this product placed.

Don Wick: 02:24 You guys have been engaged in a strategic plan, a planning type process. Can you bring me up to speed and where you sit with that, Bill?

Bill Even: 02:33 Yeah, our board, the Checkoff sat down last year and said the marketplace is really changing underneath our feet. You know, the whole kind of farm to fork food system is undergoing some pretty unprecedented changes. And so the board of directors put together a 20 member task force that represents every link in the pork chain, from farmer all the way out to retailer, including nutrition and what we’re calling Pork Checkoff 4.0. And our idea is that, you know, we’re going to build on the great work the Checkoff has done in the past, but make recommendations around direction, structure, and emphasis to ensure that, you know, we’re able to operate at the speed of business that the producer is demanding. So we’re, they’re going to be working on this through September, through Labor Day, and the task force that’s put together is going to be surveying producers, packers, the grocery stores, retailers, NGOs, nutrition community and consumers to pull all that information in and kind of lay out a new direction. I think it’s, this has nothing to take lightly. This is not typical strategic planning because it’s going to lead to some major structural changes, I think, in the organization as well. And we look forward to doing that. The framework they’re using, Don, is agile organization. And that’s less bureaucratic, less hierarchy, less heavy reliance on, you know, slow moving processes and programs and much more, I would say nimble. Pretty relevant, quick to respond to the needs of the market and the needs of the producer.

Don Wick: 04:14 Pretty common to have an attitude of “We’ve always done it this way” and stay on that path. It’s going to take a bit of a mindset change I would think to really go through that shift.

Bill Even: 04:27 Yeah. Our one of our board members, Gene Noem of Iowa, I think he put it best. He said, sometimes you gotta step back and decide are you in the groove or are you in a rut? Because when you’re there, sometimes it’s hard to tell which one you’re in. And I think the Pork Checkoff and the board is stepping back and saying, you know, there’s some areas here where we’re in a rut and the world’s changed around us and we need to really rethink the rule of the Checkoff and where you want those Checkoff dollars spent? And I really applaud the board for their courage. What they’re looking at doing, that hasn’t happened very often in the Checkoff world. And pork producers are known for, you know, wrestling these ideas to ground, but they will make a decision.

Don Wick: 05:18 Another area that’s certainly a challenge within the industry is labor. I understand that the Pork Board addressed that as well?

Bill Even: 05:28 Yes. The Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff put together a Labor Task Force here last fall. They came forward with a set of recommendations they put in front of the board here last week, and the board approved $130,000 to be spent on developing a series of around 10 to 12 high-end videos. They’re going to feature young people fresh out of high school or tech school or even college working in various aspects of the pork industry. So part of that is going to be folks that are working on the farm, you know, working in the barns and working in the nurseries and working in the farrowing rooms where we raise little pigs. But the other part we got to focus on, we need folks that can help operate the feed mills, that understand the technology and the interface to run the mills. People that can deliver the pigs, can deliver the feed.

Bill Even: 06:23 We need folks that are, you know, good at what I would call, whether it’s electrical work or plumbing, even to help in the packing plants and the processing industry. I grew up in a town of 500 people in South Dakota and absolutely love that type of life and lifestyle. There’s a lot of young people out there in rural America that would really love the chance to have a good paying job and a career that allows them to stay home and raise a family in the communities they grew up in. And we need to be able to paint that picture visually and the Pork Board is going to spend time going into the high schools, and frankly, going into the junior highs and getting this information in front of kids so that they can consider, you know, these opportunities for part of their career.

Don Wick: 07:13 Yeah, that’s really interesting. We all know that top of mind is some of these foreign animal diseases, African swine fever, certainly at the top of the list. What came out of Forum on those issues?

Bill Even: 07:29 On foreign animal disease in particular, African swine fever, the delegates, we had nearly 200 delegates representing the pork industry. Those folks passed three advisements that they sent to the board of directors. All of them were related to foreign animal disease preparedness. The big emphasis right now is on prevention. We’ve got a lot of work going on behind the scenes. A lot of conversations with veterinarians and production systems that are operating in China, where African swine fever is located, and the issue is really severe over there. And now, the African swine fever spread to Vietnam. So China is home to half the world’s pigs and if they get sick, they’ve got a lot of pigs there that could potentially spread that virus globally. So diligence around prevention is top of mind.

Bill Even: 08:31 I guess the good news for your listeners and for consumers is this, that African swine fever does not affect people or pets and pork is safe to eat. So this isn’t an issue of concern for the public or the consuming public or people and their pets. This really is a concern directly with farmers and they want to make sure that their pigs stay healthy. The problem with African swine fever is there’s currently no vaccine for it. So there’s not a whole lot we can do if your pigs get ill. And so it leaves the farmers in a helpless position. So the Checkoff’s been working with the Pork Producers Council, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, and the Swine Health Information Center, as well as the USDA. And that, I would say that teamwork that’s going on behind the scenes, has really led to some important enhancements for prevention and U.S. border security related to people inadvertently dragging something into the U.S.

Don Wick: 09:34 We live in a pretty mobile society. It’s easy to see where something could have happen, particularly with feed coming in, those kinds of things. Do you see, I’m sure you saw the enhancements done at the USDA with Pork Checkoff, part of those dialogue, that conversation on working to prevent ASF?

Bill Even: 09:56 Absolutely. The farmers that are in the pork industry, and frankly, your listeners that raise, you know, raise soybeans need to be aware of this as well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ramped up a number of efforts in conjunction with Customs and Borders Protection. The Checkoff has been very diligent behind the scenes with our other partners and the USDA ever since last August working on this issue. The big, I think the big news for your row crop farmers and soybean producers in particular, the ability for African swine fever to be carried in feed stuffs has now been verified. The Checkoff paid for research work in Minnesota, Kansas and South Dakota, that has nailed that down. And so now, not only do you have to worry about, you know, a foreign visitor from a country accidentally tracking it in, we also have to be very careful about feed premixes, vitamin premixes and so forth.

Bill Even: 11:00 Now, there are ways to mitigate this, ways to make sure that the feed stays clean and there’s some holding time recommendations that the industry’s developed. So folks that are feeding the hogs, you need to go to a, which stands short for foreign animal disease. And on that website, we’ve got all the information, flowcharts, decision trees, things that you can use as a producer to make sure that you understand what sort of conversations you need to have with your veterinarian, that you need to do with biosecurity, as well as things in conversations you need to have with your feed supplier to make sure that you don’t inadvertently pick up something.

Don Wick: 11:45 Bill Even from the National Pork Board. Thank you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit