My son, Anthony, who serves in the South Dakota Air National Guard, is at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, this fall. He is taking advanced training courses to become a F-16 crew chief when he returns to our farm near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, next spring.

My family and I drove to Wichita Falls for Thanksgiving, rented an Airbnb house, cooked a 21-pound ham with all the trimmings and invited Anthony and five of his buddies from the air base to Thanksgiving dinner. We had such a great time eating, talking and laughing. In fact, the Airmen had so much fun they came back to the house the next three days in a row to have my wife Janell cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for them.

It was an honor to feed and get to know these young men who otherwise would have been alone over the holiday. They are full of life and are learning to be professional problem solvers for the Air Force and our nation.

We came away from that experience feeling better about the world. It also made me think about how the U.S. military has reinvented itself through the years to meet changing demands. Even as recently as Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, it took over six months to get U.S. troops and equipment to the Middle East to fight Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi army after they invaded Kuwait.

I see how much more nimble and flexible the military has become today to meet strategic threats and solve problems worldwide…and the ag industry has been doing the same. It also got me thinking about the Pork Checkoff. What do we need to do differently to move at the speed of business? How can we provide value that no one else in the industry can or will provide? How can we solve problems, remain effective and stay relevant to pork producers?

Planning for Checkoff 4.0

The Pork Checkoff reflects a legacy of effective problem-solving. I call Checkoff 1.0 the era of the Moline 90 when pork producers banded together in the 1960s to create an organization to represent their interests. This formed a solid industry foundation and helped establish state pork associations through the mid-1980s.

Checkoff 2.0 arrived with the passage of the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1985. This legislation and the national funding allowed the debut of The Other White Meat® campaign in 1987 to address the problem of keeping pork relevant during the low-fat craze when skinless chicken breast ruled the meat case.

By the early 2000s, the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council split, which ushered in the era of Checkoff 3.0 with the National Pork Board staffing and operating the Checkoff. We have been operating with this same model for nearly 20 years, but think about how much has changed in our industry and in the world since then.

Technology has advanced rapidly in the barns and in the fields. Modern packing plants have opened across the Midwest. Smartphones are everywhere and have transformed consumer pork promotion in this era of global digital marketing. Speaking of global, nearly 30 percent of U.S. pork is now exported.

Yet, the Pork Checkoff is still operating with a 20-year old structure in this dynamic business environment driven by disruptive technologies from gene editing to artificial intelligence to machine learning to GPS to blockchain. The National Pork Board directors and I have discussed how five-year strategic plans are not as useful as they once were when facing this dynamic operating environment.

We now are following the latest strategic plan, drafted in 2014 and launched in 2015. The plan is good, but we cannot wait until 2020 to make changes. That is why we are starting the planning process 18 months early to create Checkoff 4.0, which will be focused on developing a vision and structure that will reposition the Checkoff as a nimble, flexible problem solver in pork research, promotion and education by:

  • Moving beyond programs. While we will always need useful long-term programs such as Pork Quality Assurance Plus® and Transport Quality Assurance®, we also need to focus producers’ resources in a more rapid and flexible fashion by shifting to a project model that addresses specific problems and pork industry needs in real-time.

Projects have a beginning and an end. They also require cross-functional collaborations with land-grant universities, state pork associations, partners such as the National Pork Producers Council, the U.S. Meat Export Federation and other associations in the food marketing channel.

  • Embracing pork’s role in an interconnected food system. Interconnected means the pork industry is more interdependent with the supply chain and the world beyond the farm gate than ever before.

Let us never forget that we are much more than pig farmers. We are food producers who supply protein to a hungry world. We are also part of a vibrant system that connects us all, from corn and soybean growers who raise the grain we feed to our pigs, to consumers who buy our product. We need to get our head around what that means and that today’s pork producers expect more and different things from the Checkoff.

  • Emphasizing a team approach. We need to create a framework for your organization that keeps the Checkoff ahead of the curve to meet pork industry needs in this new operational environment. This will require visionary leadership, a flexible structure and stable funding. It also will require a dedicated staff of subject matter experts capable of working in small project teams with pork producers and industry experts to solve problems as directed by the producer board.

This is the direction we are heading in 2019. Checkoff 4.0 is our vision to help the National Pork Board redefine its role as a nimble, flexible, adaptable, resilient, responsive and relevant problem solver. With your support, we will continue to lead the way in research, promotion, and education.


Bill Even

Bill Even

CEO, National Pork Board