Christmas came early for Ohio State students this year with the December arrival of a bacon vending machine on campus.
Students could fuel up on ready-to-eat bacon strips or bacon bits for study breaks during finals thanks to the Ohio Pork Council’s partnership with the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
The bacon snacks, donated by Hormel Foods, Sugardale Foods, and Smithfield Foods, were instant hits and also quickly captured the nation’s attention. From social media posts to coverage by Fox News, the Today Show, USA Today, the New York Times and other media outlets, people were talking about on-the-go bacon and the pig farmers who produced it. Checkoff media tracking showed that in less than a week, there were 860 news articles and more than 5,500 social mentions about the vending machine.
“We were surprised at how quickly this story went viral,” said Ohio Pork’s Meghann Winters. “Besides providing tasty snacks, the bacon vending machine provided a unique, fun way to promote pork and educate consumers about producers’ commitment to raising pigs following the We CareSM ethical principles.”
That kind of ingenuity has long been a hallmark of how the pork industry has re-imagined and evolved its efforts to connect with consumers and promote pork. As we move into the new year, the groundwork is set for the trend to continue. This issue highlights some of the new ways the Pork Checkoff is reaching out, including teaming with YouTube stars to promote pork in new ways and expanding pork’s presence in convenience stores, an area full of potential.
The producer-to-consumer link also is evolving and growing stronger through the Pork Checkoff’s #RealPigFarming social media outreach and Operation Main Street presentations to new groups. Pat Bane, featured on the cover, is the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM. He encourages all producers to “get out of their comfort zone” and into the growth zone to share their farm stories.
Here’s to another exciting year for the pork industry – one filled with new opportunities, continued successes and plenty of bacon.
– Jan Jorgensen, Editor
From the CEO
Reinventing the Pork Checkoff as a Problem Solver
By Bill Even
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.
New Study Validates Gains in U.S. Pork’s Sustainability
By Mike King
America’s pig farmers are building on generations of continuous improvement with sustainability, according to a new Pork Checkoff-funded research study, A Retrospective Assessment of U.S. Pork Production: 1960 to 2015.
The study was based on a per pound/kilogram of live weight pig produced. Over the 55-year period, the study showed 75.9 percent less land, 25.1 percent less water, and 7.0 percent less energy use, with a 7.7 percent smaller carbon footprint.
“The study confirms producers’ ongoing commitment to doing what’s best for people, pigs and the planet using the We CareSM ethical principles,” said Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff.
“By obtaining reliable benchmark data for multiple sustainability metrics, producers can make real-world changes in how they raise their animals to produce an even more sustainable product in the future,” Pyburn said. “The Checkoff data offer pig farmers the best and most precise data to set their sustainability goals.”
The comprehensive life-cycle assessment project with the University of Arkansas used the best available methodology along with a field-to-farm gate approach. This meant including material and energy flows associated with the full supply chain, beginning with an extraction of raw materials through the production of live, market-weight pigs, including culled sows.
Unlike previous studies, the new research accounts for global warming potential and the use of dried distillers grains in many swine rations. Look for more details in the next issue.
The report was generated using full-rigor, life-cycle assessment methods and the Pig Production Environmental Footprint Calculator developed jointly by the University of Arkansas, USDA, and the National Pork Board to apply specifically to pigs. Earlier models used methods applied to other animal species that were modified for pigs. For more information, go to: pork.org/sustainability
Key Numbers to Know
1960 to 2015
- Land use reduced by 75.9%
- Water use reduced by 25.1%
- Carbon footprint reduced by 7.7%
- Energy use reduced by 7.0%
Par for Course, No Dull Moments in the Cards for 2019
By Steve Meyer
With a new year, thoughts turn to what is in store. As Yogi Berra once said, “It is dangerous to make forecasts, especially about the future.” As an economist, I understand that all too well, but let’s look at what should be the four biggest issues for 2019.
African Swine Fever (ASF)
The worst ASF situation is in China, where consumers eat an average of 88 pounds of pork per person annually compared with 18 pounds of chicken and 10 pounds of beef. Pork is a critical protein source, but controlling the virus in China’s widely dispersed 770 million pigs has proven to be very challenging.
Pig losses in China will mount and production impacts will, I believe, become huge when today’s breeding stock losses translate to fewer market hogs in 2019.
The EU seems to have ASF under control in Poland and has taken aggressive moves to eliminate the threat in wild boars in Belgium. But the wild boar population is large and widely dispersed across the continent, and those hogs do not respect borders. The key is whether ASF can be kept out of major commercial production areas in Poland and from crossing into Germany.
Domestic Demand and the U.S. Economy
Domestic pork demand since June has softened sharply versus year-ago levels. While year-long demand will likely be within 2 percent of 2017, June, July and September year-on-year declines for real per capita expenditures for pork (a metric of consumer demand) were 5.1, 2.9 and 10.1 percent, respectively.
The September decline was from a very high level a year ago, but it was a shockingly big number. Pork demand is still good relative to past years, but this recent trend is concerning.
What if the U.S. economy slows? That is not the case yet, but there are indications that this recovery – the second longest since 1900 – may be ending. The next recession likely will not be anywhere as serious as was the Great Recession, and there is no guarantee that an economic slowdown will hurt pork demand. But operating in a growing economy is much more fun than in a stagnant or shrinking one.
Disease Pressure in the U.S.
For years I have told producers that I had never found a “marketing hole” resulting from PRRS losses. I think I have now.
Last winter’s PRRS cases were higher than in any year since 2011-2012, according to the University of Minnesota. Anecdotal evidence indicates that death losses were larger than in any recent year, as well. January through March losses led, I believe, to the large shortfall of pigs in September after producers marketed aggressively in July and August when prices were falling. I can’t say never ever again.
PRRS case numbers have been at or near record lows so far this winter. If that continues, U.S. market hog numbers may grow sharply in the year to come.
U.S. Hog Supplies
Related factors are sow herd growth and productivity growth. USDA pegged breeding herd growth at 3.3 percent for March to May 2018 and 2.4 percent for June to August. According to USDA, litter size growth also slowed. Based on anecdotal evidence, litters appear to have returned to a 1 to 2 percent growth rate in recent months. If all is true, 3 to 4 percent larger pig supplies are in the cards for 2019.
Entering the Growth Zone:
Meet Patrick Bane, America’s Pig Farmer of the Year℠
By Darcy Maulsby
Life is a mix of the comfort zone, the panic zone, and the growth zone. When a friend nominated Patrick Bane for America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM, Bane didn’t enter the panic zone, but he knew it would propel him out of the comfort zone and into the growth zone.
“Like most pig farmers, I’m most comfortable in the barn,” said Bane, owner, and manager of Bane Family Pork Farm (BFPF), a 3,000-sow farrow-to-wean operation near Arrowsmith, Illinois. “I’m passionate about pig farming, though, and want to help more people understand modern agriculture.”
Bane brings more than 40 years of experience to the role of America’s Pig Farmer of the Year℠. He grew up in a family of nine on a small farrow-to-finish hog farm, earned an animal science degree from the University of Illinois and became a contract grower as the pork industry evolved. He built his first modern hog barn in 1994 and transitioned exclusively to pig farming in 2007.
Today, Bane and his eight full-time employees raise 74,000 pigs annually at BFPF, which includes two farrowing barns, three gestation houses, one gilt developer unit and one nursery. Animal agriculture is a family affair for the Bane family. One of Bane’s brothers is a veterinarian who works closely with BFPF. Another brother produces a variety of livestock for the niche organic market.
“We need diverse farms to meet different consumer preferences,” said Bane, who is PQA® Plus certified. “Producers should respect other systems and be supportive of the industry as a whole. I’m honored to be the Pig Farmer of the Year and appreciate the opportunity to represent all types of pork producers.”
The award honors a farmer who excels at raising pigs following the We CareSM ethical principles. But more importantly to Bane, it provides many opportunities throughout the year to share his farming story with the American public.
“We Care isn’t just a motto,” said Mike King, director of science communications for the National Pork Board. “It’s a way of life on the farm and a promise to the public. Bane is connecting with audiences nationwide to show consumers how pig farmers are focused on continuous improvement that’s good for people, pigs and the planet.”
10 Messages Pat Bane Shares with Audiences
- His lifetime of farming experience.
“Pigs are my life. In my 40 years in this business, I can truly say I love my job and enjoy the people I work with,” said Bane, adding that the challenges of raising pigs can be humbling.
“Just when you think you have it all figured out, something like a new disease can change everything,” Bane said. “Fortunately, I have the ability to make the adjustments needed to create the best environment for the animals. Technology also allows me to provide a comfortable environment for our pigs.”
- A desire to connect with consumers.
To Bane, sharing a farmer’s perspective about raising pigs helps build consumer trust in pork and encourages them to purchase pork products more often.
“Our family has been in the pig business for three generations,” he said. “We devote 365 days per year to the care and maintenance of our farm. I want consumers to know that we take every precaution to ensure our animals receive superior care.”
Bane also uses a variety of practices to maintain high herd health other than medication.
“When medication is needed, we follow labels, regulations and laws,” he said. “I’d never use a product if it’s not right for animals or consumers. We all need to share our commitment to responsible animal care.”
- A people-first philosophy.
Bane’s employee strategy is simple: Hire and keep the best people.
“Raising pigs is a people business,” Bane said. “There is no GPS guidance system or auto-steer system for what we do. We work hard to find high-quality help and work even harder to train employees well and keep them happy.”
It’s working. Half of Bane’s eight employees have been with his farm 15 years, and the rest five to 10 years.
“I look for patient people who like working with pigs every day,” Bane said. “Animal care can be a rewarding way to make a living, but you need people who enjoy taking care of the animals and take pride in their work.”
Bane finds ways to let employees know they are an invaluable part of the farm.
“Not only do we give them the right training and tools to get the job done, but we get to know them as individuals and get to know their families, too,” he said.
- Attention to detail.
Bane uses proven practices on his farm to raise pigs responsibly, from biosecurity to proper nutrient management.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I use a variety of protocols to minimize disease risk and raise healthy pigs,” Bane said. “We never stop looking for ways to improve.”
- Eco-friendly stewardship.
Through soil/manure testing, we utilize manure as a source of natural fertilizer and track crop nutrient removal records so we don’t over-apply nutrients,” said Bane. He also installed a windbreak to improve air quality and to add wildlife habitat on the farm.
- A desire to give back to the community.
For 10 years, Bane has volunteered and chaired a committee to design and build an exhibit at the local county fair to educate people of all ages about modern agriculture. The exhibit includes make-and-take activities for kids, along with animal care stations to help people learn more about what it takes to care for animals every day.
Fairgoers also can watch videos filmed inside livestock facilities. Other eye-catching items include life-sized posters of producers in the county. The posters share facts about how farmers raise food, how animals are cared for and how import agriculture is to the local economy.
Bane has worked with hundreds of youth volunteers during the annual fair on ways to communicate and share agriculture’s story. He also has provided information for the McLean County Historical Museum to update its agriculture exhibit, and he presented ag information during the museum’s open house.
“It’s critical for us to be active in our communities and to be known as good stewards of our animals and the environment,” Bane said. “I want people to know that I’m always looking for new ways to make life better for my workers, my animals, and my community.”
- A focus on continuous improvement.
Bane is always willing to look at new technology and innovations that can make pig farming more sustainable and productive. Through the years, his farm has transitioned from group housing for pregnant sows to individual maternity pens as the farm expanded.
“Specialized care of our sows ensures that all mothers are in good physical condition when they have their piglets, which in turn allows them to nurse a large litter,” Bane said.
The operation also has progressed from part-time help to full-time care.
“I have the daily commitment of employees and myself to provide dedicated care for the animals,” Bane said. “We work with a feed company and its nutritionist to perfect the diets for each growth stage and life cycle of the pigs.”
He added, “Technology and industry innovations such as room controllers and alarm monitoring also make it easier to ensure better pig care and comfort 24/7, 365 days a year. That is always our focus.”
- An open-door policy.
Bane gives many farm tours and welcomes questions.
“Since many farms are closed to the public and operate in remote locations, misconceptions among the public are prevalent,” Bane said. “It’s easy to mistrust someone or something you don’t know or understand. My goal is to help people better understand what we do and develop pork advocates.”
Bane works closely with state and national legislators to educate them about the pork industry and how proposed legislation would affect pig farmers.
“Countering misinformation is important,” Bane said. “When I had the chance to be part of a group discussion panel with healthcare professionals at a local hospital, I helped dispel misconceptions about today’s farming practices and fielded questions on antibiotics and animal care.”
- Farming focused on We Care.SM
Bane follows all of the We Care ethical principles. But ask him which principle is the most meaningful to him and he’ll say public health.
“We’re raising food for human consumption, which requires the absolute highest degree of care and concern during the entire process, from the care of the mothers to the newborn piglets to market,” Bane said. “We want to deliver safe, high-quality pork to consumers here and abroad.”
- An optimistic spirit.
Bane looks forward to expanding his knowledge and sharing it with more consumers and the media.
“I appreciate the opportunity to reach new audiences with the story of pig farming,” Bane said. “Consumers want to know more about how food is produced. If we don’t tell our stories, someone else will, even if they don’t understand agriculture.”
That’s why he’s willing to take time away from his business to fill this vital role as Pig Farmer of the Year.
“I want to share the truth and offer a different perspective from critics who often unfairly paint our farming practices in a bad light,” he said. “I hope my willingness to step forward and represent America’s pig farmers will encourage others to share their stories, too.”
Speaking Up for Pork Matters
America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM judges share their perspectives
Raising pigs looks different today than decades ago, thanks to major advancements in animal health, food safety and environmental stewardship. No one knows this better than producers, especially the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year and the producers chosen as finalists. These exceptional producers stepped up to share stories of how America’s pig farmers are doing what’s right for people, pigs, and the planet while producing the best pork ever. Hearing their messages firsthand were this year’s judges, who shared their impressions:
Q: What impressed you about these four committed producers?
Robin Ganzert: These four producers are inspirational and great Americans. I was truly impressed with their commitment to humane farming practices and sustainability. They all showed that animal welfare is job one.
Scott Vernon: These farmers have skin in the game and really care about their livestock. These professionals know the stakes are high, and I was impressed by their courage. While it’s easy to think, “I’ll just keep my head down and mind my own business on my farm,” pig farmers can no longer afford to do this, especially in today’s 24/7 news cycle.
Kari Underly: I love their passion and was impressed by their knowledge of all aspects of pig farming and their ability to communicate with consumers. What really resonated was their ability to dust off their boots, present their story and be a spokesperson for pig farming.
Sarah Hendren: I was impressed with each candidate’s expertise and professionalism. They are thought leaders in their industry and are actively involved in their communities. While they live the farming life every day, they recognize how important it is to be part of the conversation with issues that affect agriculture.
Q: What skills are essential to effectively tell pork’s story?
Robin Ganzert: To tell ag’s story, producers need to be able to showcase their passion, their knowledge of the industry and their ability to speak to ag issues beyond their own farm. I was impressed with these farmers’ incredible commitment to opening their farms as showplaces and was moved by their stories of multi-generational farming families, who are the backbone of feeding the world.
Scott Vernon: These farmers can explain technology and sustainable management practices in a way that non-farmers can understand. They also serve their community from civic groups to church organizations, work hard to be good neighbors and keep learning about better ways to farm. All this shares pork’s story in a powerful, positive way.
Kari Underly: Producers must be comfortable and passionate when speaking about the successes and challenges of the American pig farmer.
Sarah Hendren: As ag experts, pig farmers know how to communicate in a consumer-friendly way. They can translate complex issues such as biosecurity into clear, easily-digestible messages. Producers also need to be willing to work with retail/foodservice professionals to help share these messages.
Q: How can America’s Pig Farmer of the Year and other pig farmers guide conversations about agriculture and food production?
Robin Ganzert: Pig farmers can bring tremendous insights into the dialogue around food production. With global threats of disease outbreaks, trade wars, immigration battles and the impact of sustainability, today’s pig farmers are no longer just managing matters at home but are on the front lines of the global headlines, dealing with real issues in real time. Their sophistication with food production on a global stage benefits not only families in America, but those around the world, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of a safe, affordable and ethical food system.
Scott Vernon: They can help people learn that farmers provide a safe, abundant food supply, which allows other people to pursue their own interests. When people don’t have to worry about producing their own food, they can focus on the arts, politics or whatever else interests them. My hat’s off to the National Pork Board for supporting the America’s Pig Farmer of the Year program and bringing the farmer’s perspective into the conversation more often.
Kari Underly: Today’s American pig farmers must be comfortable having conversations about how food is produced, specifically regarding sustainability. It’s also important for consumers to know that American pig farmers practice the We CareSM principles and are committed to responsible, ethical animal agriculture. We’re blessed in this country to know that this is the baseline for how animals are raised.
I was encouraged by the candidates’ beliefs that American pig farming is not a one-size-fits-all industry. Farmers can raise their pigs in a barn or in the pasture. It’s really up to farmers about how best to sustain their farm using the We Care principles.
Sarah Hendren: While “barn talk” makes perfect sense to other farmers, many of the concepts and terms used to explain today’s agriculture are foreign and confusing to non-farmers. It’s like an astronaut trying to explain all the complexities of how a space shuttle works. If they don’t put it in terms people can understand, the message gets lost.
We need pig farmers who can explain agriculture in a calm, clear way and be part of the conversation about food. Studies show that consumers view farmers and ranchers as trustworthy and credible. The America’s Pig Farmer of the Year program plays a key role of representing America’s 60,000 pig farmers and putting a face on today’s agriculture.
Dr. Robin Ganzert – Robin Ganzert, president and chief executive officer of American Humane, which has been promoting the welfare and safety of animals and strengthening the bond between animals and people for more than 100 years.
Sarah Hendren – Sarah Hendren, nutrition and quality assurance manager with Culver Franchising System, LLC.
Kari Underly – Kari Underly, an author and award-winning butcher at Range, a Chicago-based business that helps companies in the fresh meat industry develop merchandising tools and market strategies to promote their products.
Dr. Scott Vernon – Scott Vernon, who teaches leadership and agricultural communication courses at California Polytechnic State University.
America’s Pig Farmer of the Year 2018 Finalists
Patrick Bane – Arrowsmith, Illinois
Bill Luckey – Columbus, Nebraska
Brad Lundell – Kiron, Iowa
Kevin Rasmussen – Goldfield, Iowa
Mr. Bane Goes to Washington
Animal welfare takes center stage in D.C.
By Kevin Waetke
One of the We CareSM principles closest to Illinois pig farmer Patrick Bane’s heart is a commitment to caring for his pigs. In November, he took his message directly to the national leaders focused on the humane treatment of animals.
Bane, a guest of American Humane, addressed those assembled for the Congressional Humane Table Hill Event in Washington, D.C. Progress in animal welfare practices among the country’s farmers was showcased. The event also directly supported the bipartisan Congressional Humane Bond Caucus.
Bane joined other farmers in sharing their stories about raising livestock today.
“Many people are unfamiliar with agriculture, and where there is lack of knowledge and insight, there is confusion and concern,” said Bane, the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM. I want to provide perspective to those who may not have it.”
The event was hosted by American Humane, the first animal welfare organization established in the United States. A facet of its work is to improve living conditions for farm animals.
“One billion animals in livestock are raised on certified humane farms. Farm animal welfare is the last, great frontier,” said Robin Ganzert, American Humane chief executive officer. “Too often farmers are criticized when things go wrong and are not praised when things go right.”
Since its creation in 1877, American Humane has been behind virtually every major advance in the protection of animals in this country. Today, it is the largest third-party animal welfare organization with a farm animal program that supports humane conditions for livestock under verifiable, science-based standards.
Similarly, the Congressional Humane Bond Caucus was formed to recognize the role animals play in providing companionship and comfort in times of need, as therapy partners, and in protecting people at home and in times of war.
“By strengthening the humane bond between us, the well-being of people, animals and the world can be significantly improved,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). “This caucus is devoted to bringing a common-sense, scientific and rational dialogue to the issues surrounding the physical, emotional and even medical connections between humans and animals.”
“We want to give thanks – not only to those who work every day to put food on our tables – but to those who do it humanely, raising their animals under the best conditions possible,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).
Trial by Fire: #RealPigFarmers Protect their Communities
By Darcy Maulsby
Some people run from problems while others run to them. We call them firefighters… first responders… Pig farmers.
Wait – pig farmers? Absolutely, thanks to leaders such as Scott Van Deest, a volunteer fire chief with the Lafayette Fire Department in Minnesota, and Amy Storm, an emergency medical responder from Ethan, South Dakota.
Van Deest and Storm are among the latest pig farmers featured in the Pork Checkoff’s #RealPigFarming digital communications.
“Producers are more than just pig farmers,” said Claire Masker, director of communications for the Pork Checkoff. “They are also moms, dads, coaches, firefighters and more. Highlighting that human connection builds trust with consumers.”
Two Unique Passions
Spark Life of Service
While Van Deest enjoyed working in agriculture in high school, he couldn’t shake a desire to head to the Rocky Mountains. He wanted to fight fires in the region and possibly become one of the fabled “hotshots,” the highly-trained firefighters who battle wildland fires.
By his early 20s, Van Deest pursued his dream in Colorado. But there was another dream that drew him back to Minnesota in 1995, where he started working for his previous employers at Wakefield Pork.
“I worked for Wakefield Pork owners Steve and Mary Langhorst in high school,” said Van Deest, who now balances his career as farm manager with Wakefield Pork Inc. with his role as a volunteer fire chief. “I knew I would always want to work in agriculture and went to college for it.”
Firefighting and pig farming might seem like an odd combination, but they share a lot of similarities, Van Deest added. Both allow him to serve the community and use his talents to help others.
“I try to be calm, cool and collected, because someone needs to be steady and reliable in stressful situations,” said Van Deest, a 22-year member of the Lafayette Fire Department.
While he prepares for the best possible scenario on the farm or at a fire, Van Deest and his team know there are no guarantees.
“On the fire department, you need to have a plan in place. When the pager goes off, everything can all change in a heartbeat,” he said. “And on the farm, you can have something come up that immediately changes your plans. That’s why we always train our people. It makes a smoother outcome and allows us to take proper care of the pigs.”
Though he could retire from the fire department, Van Deest plans to remain a firefighter as long as he’s healthy. He also remains committed to the pork industry’s We CareSM ethical principles.
“My work helps the community, and that always gives me a good feeling at the end of the day,” he said.
“Have Each Other’s Back”
The importance of helping the community hit home for Storm when her father faced some health issues a few years ago.
“I knew that if something happened, whether on our farm or to a neighbor, I would want to try everything I possibly could to help out,” said Storm, who farms with her husband and three sons near Ethan, South Dakota.
This desire prompted Storm to visit with the local fire chief. Since then, she’s become a certified emergency medical responder (EMR) and volunteers with the local area fire department.
“When we go to a call, we have each other’s back,” said Storm, who raises pigs, cattle and crops in addition to off-farm work as a photographer.
Living 10 miles from town can be an advantage when it comes to public safety.
“It’s very rural here, so if there’s a medic or fire call in my neck of the woods, I’m the first one there,” said Storm, who keeps her own medical bag and fire gear at the farm.
Storm is prepared for anything when a call for help comes in and puts these skills to work on the farm, too.
“My work is different every day,” said Storm, who handles everything from working with pigs to driving the tractor.
Storm sees a common thread between caring for people and ensuring the highest level of care for her pigs.
“We want to raise our pigs, our crops and our boys in a positive, healthy environment, and we want to be good members of our community,” she said.
Straight from the Source
When making connections with consumers, it’s hard to beat stories straight from pig farmers, veterinarians and other industry professionals who know it best.
“That’s why we created #RealPigFarming in 2014,” said Claire Masker, director of communications for the Pork Checkoff. “A story that makes pig farmers more human resonates. Highlighting the pork industry’s We Care℠ ethical principles helps to connect with consumers.”
Stories are shared on the Checkoff’s RealPigFarming.com blog and through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some #RealPigFarming videos have gone viral, including Meet the Women of #RealPigFarming and Meet the Littlest Pig Farmer.
Sharing Facts about Raising Pigs
By Darcy Maulsby
It started as a simple goal in 2004: Create a community-based, volunteer speaker program to address local concerns about pork production. Since then, Operation Main Street (OMS) has grown to include 1,450 people trained as OMS speakers, including 132 swine veterinarians.
Through the years, experienced OMS speakers have addressed high-value audiences, including dietitians, nutritionists, chefs, human health practitioners, grocery associations, schools of veterinary medicine, culinary arts students and other key influencers. By early 2019, OMS speakers will reach a major milestone with the completion of the 10,000th OMS presentation.
Jan Archer – North Carolina pork producer
People receive conflicting information about farming and food. When they turn to experts and influencers for answers, we need to make sure that these people have the best, most up-to-date information about pig farming. OMS has provided great opportunities to share my story. I’ve spoken to students, physicians and dietitians, as well as civic organizations, and have found that each group is hungry for good information they can share.
How we feed our animals, how we clean our barns and why we put so much time into animal care fascinates people far removed from the farm. They are interested in our We CareSM ethical principles. I show how technology gives us the time and ability to focus more on animal care and produce safe food, while protecting our natural resources and public health and making our communities a better place to live.
Abbey Canon – DVM, Center for Food Security & Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University
It’s important to reassure healthcare providers that pork is safe and healthy, and that pig farmers care about raising pigs humanely. I’ve spoken to nursing students and nurses, who are among the most trusted professionals in the United States. Nurses have questions about antibiotic use, hormone use and product labeling. I let them know that pig farmers focus on raising healthy pigs and preventing disease, rather than treating disease, to limit the use of antibiotics. Sometimes animals, just like people, need antibiotics to avoid suffering when they’re sick. Pig farmers work with veterinarians to use antibiotics responsibly.
Steve Brie – production director, Midwest Region, Smithfield Foods
These are positive conversations about pork and swine production with people who are leaders in their field. I’ve spoken to dietitians and retail grocers. Both groups want to learn about how and why we raise pigs the way we do. Even things as simple as why we don’t have “grass-fed pork” and the differences between pigs and cattle are discussed. These presentations are fun and valuable to educate the people who sell and serve our product.
Dash and Dine: Pork Moves into C-store Sector
By Darcy Maulsby
Ever thought of a convenience store (C-store) as a dining destination? In today’s mobile, fast-paced society, C-stores are delving more into foodservice, and pork offers many convenient meal solutions.
“While the pork industry has traditionally focused on retail, which is still important, C-stores offer big opportunities, too,” said Elaine Otte, manager of national channel marketing and innovation for the Pork Checkoff. “We’re working with C-stores to build pork sales.”
As competition for people’s food dollars increases, more C-stores are striving to improve the quality, taste and freshness of their food.
“From fully-cooked ribs to boneless chops, pork allows C-stores to offer unique products,” said Otte,who noted that food has become such a big part of their business.
Pennies per Gallon
C-stores make pennies per gallon on fuel. And “sin taxes” have eaten into profits offered by tobacco products while the number of smokers has dropped significantly.
“Food now drives 40 to 60 percent of gross profit margins in C-stores,” Otte said. “They’ve expanded snack foods, sandwiches and beverages, with about 70 percent of the merchandise typically including something you can ingest.”
The sheer number of C-stores nationwide is staggering, she added. The most recent count showed nearly 155,000 C-stores as of Dec. 31, 2017. That’s a 0.3 percent increase (423 stores) from the prior year, according to the 2017 National Association of Convenience Stores/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.
“Think about this the next time you’re driving,” Otte said. “You pass a lot more C-stores than grocery stores.”
Breakfast, Lunch Standby
Oscar Mayer products were among the first to tap into the foodservice potential of C-stores, starting with Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Otte said. Then came Oscar Mayer Lunchables, the handy, portable meal boxes in 1989.
“Food you buy at a C-store has to be snackable and easy to consume with one hand,” Otte said. “Messy meatball sandwiches with marinara sauce do not cut it.”
Pork Checkoff Promotes New Pork Options
While pork has found a sweet spot in C-stores, there’s room for growth. The Pork Checkoff is working with C-stores to build new pork products, such as:
- Chorizo and carnitas. A C-store chain in Texas and Oklahoma buys 1.5 million pounds of raw pork jowls and picnic hams a year to make homemade chorizo sausage and pork carnitas in its stores.
- Precooked ribs. Country Fair, with 84 C-stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, has found a niche by offering precooked, bone-in slabs of pork ribs.
- Fully-cooked pork chops. The Pork Checkoff is working with a C-store chain on a special promotion of 4-ounce, boneless, fully-cooked pork chops.
- Rotisserie pork. The Pork Checkoff also is working with a 200-unit C-store chain to test pork cuts that can be cooked in rotisseries.
- Pork Jerky. “There should be more pork jerky,” said Otte, who noted that jerky is especially popular with young men.
“Promoting new pork options in C-stores can equate to millions of pounds of pork sold each year,” Otte said. “My message to C-stores? Pork builds your business, and it helps hard-working American pig farmers, too.”
Pork is a great fit for popular C-store foods that are convenient, great-tasting and easy to eat. The nation’s more than 155,000 C-stores offer:
Pork owns breakfast, with bacon, sausage and Canadian bacon. The average C-store buys about 1,000 pounds of pork per year just for breakfast.
Pork is a favorite topping for breakfast and other pizzas, with pepperoni and sausage the most popular.
It takes about one pound of pork to top four large pizzas. C-store pizza sales nationwide use 200 million pounds of pork toppings each year, and many C-stores sell frozen pizzas with pork toppings.
Deli sandwiches and pork rib sandwiches
BBQ pork sandwiches, submarine sandwiches and prepackaged deli sandwiches with sliced ham, pepperoni, salami and bacon are among the lunch options at many C-stores.
The average C-store uses 12 pounds of ham a month. Multiply that times 12 months and 155,000 C-stores nationwide, and the total is 22.3 million pounds of ham per year.
About 70 percent of merchandise sold at C-stores includes something you can ingest.
Successful YouTube® Strategy Expands to Engage Retailers
By Jason Menke
“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard, a 19th century Quaker writer
Last summer, the National Pork Board ventured into new marketing territory by engaging YouTube® celebrities and opinion influencers to produce videos encouraging consumers to buy chops and grill them to the recommended internal temperature of 145° F. While many of these stars aren’t yet household names, their YouTube channels have more influence, in terms of reach, than popular TV shows.
Two Checkoff-funded campaigns with Famebit, a Google-owned marketing platform that helps brands connect with YouTube influencers, has produced 24 different videos. As of early December, they had been viewed nearly five million times. The Pork Checkoff’s Jenna Bieri, manager of social media strategy, called the inaugural campaign a success.
“We were excited by the opportunities YouTube presented to target and engage consumers that, quite honestly, aren’t frequent pork purchasers – possibly because we weren’t reaching them with traditional radio and TV advertising,” Bieri said. “The engagement we’ve seen from a generation of consumers who are discovering pork, has been incredibly encouraging.”
But, as Pollard points out to us in the opening quote, what we did yesterday may not be sufficient for tomorrow. With that in mind, and with an eye on further demonstrating value to supply-chain partners, the Pork Checkoff has identified ways to further reinforce its position as a valued business-to-business consultant to retailers.
“Promotion and education are in our mandate; we live it and breathe it. Encouraging consumers to buy and eat pork will always be a part of our work,” said Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing for the Pork Checkoff.
He added, “But with the early YouTube successes, we asked, ‘How can we take this to the next level and provide value to retailers?’ There’s no better way to validate the benefits of our new digital strategy than to show specific retailers that if they do this, they can increase their fresh pork sales.”
Bringing retailers along on the YouTube journey was crucial to demonstrating the value of this shift from traditional broadcast advertising to 21st century digital marketing, Sutton said.
Working with Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart
The Pork Checkoff identified three major retailers – Sam’s Club, Costco and Walmart – as brands to implement test marketing strategies and to track sales of specific cuts.
Sam’s Club and Costco, two major warehouse clubs, sell a significant amount of pork, especially whole boneless loins. Between the Pork Checkoff’s longstanding focus on driving value for the loin and plentiful inventories, centering a campaign on what many consider the signature primal was an obvious opportunity.
A similar strategy was developed for Walmart, with a focus on whole boneless pork loins as well as loin roasts and packs of chops.
Working with Famebit, separate campaigns were developed for each of the retailers. YouTube creators showcased the versatility of the loin and chops, demonstrated how to cook pork properly and provided a call to action to go to the specific retailer to buy pork loin.
“The beauty of YouTube from a marketing standpoint lies within its ability to track and monitor each individual viewer, and to provide follow-up content via ads shown in other YouTube content,” Sutton said.
For example, if viewers watch Binging With Babish’s video created for Sam’s Club on how to break down a whole boneless loin, they can be shown a pork loin ad that directs them to Sam’s Club the next time they log onto YouTube and watch a different video.
Extending the Campaigns
“Google’s ownership of YouTube gives us the opportunity to extend the campaigns beyond YouTube,” Bieri said. “As consumers search Google in the following weeks, we can continue to provide pork-related content that aligns with each of the retailers’ related sales goals.”
For example, someone who watched a video for the Costco campaign will not just see YouTube video ads. The next time they’re searching Google and use keywords such as “healthy dinner options,” a Costco ad for pork can be included high in the search results, creating further value for both pork and Costco.
Through “search lift,” viewers’ search behaviors can be tracked to see who is searching for pork-related content after viewing sponsored content and ads.
The warehouse club campaigns ran in October and November. The Walmart campaign launched in December and focused on quick, healthy family meals during the holiday season.
“It’s great that we can use social media influencers to positively impact consumers’ perception of pork,” Sutton said. “And we are able to show retail partners that the Pork Checkoff’s shift to digital-first marketing is paying off for everyone who markets and sells it.”
Pork Expands Dietitians’ Healthy Influence
By Claire Masker
Americans are hungry for accurate nutrition information, but it’s easy to be confused in a world of information overload. Even registered dietitians are seeking answers to a wider range of questions about food, including pork.
“When I joined the Pork Checkoff team, most of my conversations with health professionals involved pork’s nutrient profile and how pork fits into a healthy lifestyle,” said Adria Huseth, manager of nutrition communications. “Now the conversations have shifted to include pork production, animal well-being and sustainability.”
The Checkoff supported four events in 2018 to interact with dietitians and provide the answers they seek.
Farm tours influence perspectives. In 2018, registered dietitians toured farms, prepared new pork recipes and expanded their network. The 25 attendees took part in events held in Oklahoma, North Carolina or Iowa.
“Participants asked tough questions about antibiotics, sustainability and animal welfare,” said Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff. “Getting the facts helps alleviate concerns many had prior to the tours.”
Surveys show that 58 percent of attendees viewed livestock farming as extremely or very favorable pre-tour compared with 86 percent post-tour.
Registered Dietitian Summit connects pork, health and Latinos. Checkoff research shows Latino Americans consume more pork but have health concerns about it. During the Registered Dietitian Summit, the Checkoff showcased pork nutrition research, highlighted the versatility of lean pork cuts and answered questions about raising pigs.
“Dietitians are an important link in spreading the message about pork’s role in a healthy diet,” said Jose de Jesus, director of multicultural marketing for the Checkoff.
Food and Nutrition Conference/Expo includes virtual reality farm tours. Nearly 11,000 registered dietitians flocked to Washington, D.C., this fall for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual gathering. They could tour a pig farm through virtual reality headsets at the Checkoff’s booth.
“This sparked a lot of great conversation about pig farming,” said Charlotte Rommereim, a registered dietitian and pig farmer from Alcester, South Dakota.
FoodFluence 2018 targets thought leaders. The Checkoff sponsored this invitation-only food and nutrition thought-leadership conference for 32 registered dietitians who have broad reach to consumers through publications and social media.
“Attendees wanted to hear about sustainability, animal welfare and responsible antibiotic use,” said Rommereim who spoke at the event. “I appreciated the chance to answer their thoughtful questions about how we raise pigs today.”
What It Really Means to Elevate International Marketing
By Craig Morris
For the first time ever, the National Pork Board tagged international marketing as an organizational goal in 2018. The mandate was straightforward: Elevate international marketing, which is key to the U.S. pork industry’s continued success. After a record-setting 2017, the push was on to keep the trajectory going and to set new records.
A two-pronged strategy supported pork export growth in developed markets and built diversified export opportunities in emerging markets that could be profitable for years to come. The Pork Board strengthened relationships with its strategic partners, the National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, ensuring that the industry was working together.
The Pork Board engaged in the broader pork and food community, harnessing the power of media both here and abroad to talk about the importance and the superiority of U.S. pork exports, breaking barriers and building relationships the world over. U.S. pork producers accomplished a lot in 2018 while facing unexpected trade wars and retaliatory tariffs from the largest and most profitable export markets, some of which had been considered unshakable.
Strategic objectives and relationships here and abroad were important, as well as looking at new opportunities to market U.S. pork. The goal is to never put all of our bacon, literally or figuratively, in one basket.
Trade visits to critical export markets in Asia (page 34), Latin and South America and the Caribbean provided critical insights to better market U.S. pork, identified new opportunities and built new partnerships. Trade teams met with fascinating buyers, influencers and retailers who proudly sell and support U.S. pork because of its superior quality and want to sell more.
Working across departments within the Pork Checkoff, we identified opportunities to share insights and channel the power of influencers. We worked to understand consumers abroad and those in our own backyard looking for ethnic cuisines and new flavors on menus and in recipes to prepare at home.
Reaching Greater Heights
And we’ve listened to key stakeholders and taken their insights to determine where we go next and how we get there. This has been a building year, a year where we’ve built a better plane so we can take off faster and reach even greater heights.
In 2019, the Pork Board is doubling down in the markets where Pork Checkoff investments can make a difference. This means increased investment in developing markets, including ASEAN, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Korea, and continuing to advance in developed markets that have been huge for U.S. pork, including Japan and Mexico.
The Pork Board will continue to move the needle, despite a challenging trade policy environment. In 2019, the ambitious Pork 2040, a foresight marketing study, will be launched to build off the insights gathered in 2018. This project will help the industry understand challenges and opportunities for U.S. pork products 10, 15 or even 20 years from now.
Thanks for coming along for the journey in 2018. Stay tuned this year as the Pork Board continues to elevate international marketing efforts to achieve the industry’s ambitious export goals.
Asian Odyssey: Trade Mission Shows Checkoff at Work
By Darcy Maulsby
Ever heard of Macau? Located on the south coast of China, across from Hong Kong, it’s a tourist destination with premier casinos and upscale restaurants that offer outstanding opportunities to showcase U.S. pork to consumers worldwide.
This left a lasting impression on the Pork Checkoff’s International Marketing Committee members who participated in a trade mission to Asia this fall.
“This trip can only be described as eye-opening,” said Glenn Stolt, president, and CEO of Christensen Farms. “I walked away with a profound appreciation of just how small our world has become, both in food and in relationships.”
Stolt and other pork industry leaders toured Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau during the 10-day immersion experience. Each Asian market is distinctively different and offers tremendous potential for U.S. pork.
Macau, for example, has three times the gambling revenue of the entire state of Nevada. The team visited the Venetian, one of the largest casinos in the world, to observe how U.S. pork is featured in some of its high-end restaurants.
“Understanding the magnitude of this venue exemplifies the demand for both quantity and quality protein,” said Derrick Sleezer, the International Marketing Committee vice chair, and Cherokee, Iowa, pork producer. “A hotel and casino of this scale require excellence from the food they provide their guests. U.S. pork is well positioned to showcase our product to a large and consistent tourist-driven consumer base.”
The U.S. trade group agreed that the diversity in Asia’s markets is astounding. Some countries, such as Vietnam, are emerging markets, while other markets are mature and affluent, with grocery stores similar to those in the United States.
“In Singapore, U.S. pork is prominently displayed in retail cases for shoppers who are not much different from U.S. consumers,” said Craig Morris, the Checkoff’s vice president of international marketing.
During the tour throughout Asia, the group met with pork processors, distributors, retailers, traders and in-country staff responsible for promoting U.S. pork in the region. The group also met with 40 of the largest importers who help decide what food products will be sold in retail stores, featured on restaurant menus and traded with other countries in Southeast Asia.
Singapore Buyers Praise U.S. Pork’s Consistency
The Asian trade mission helped form stronger relationships with international customers and to elevate U.S. pork as the global protein of choice,” said Bill Luckey, a pork producer from Columbus, Nebraska, and chair of the International Marketing Committee. “
“Not only did we see the many ways that pork is being promoted in these countries, we came back with insights into how to grow market share,” Luckey said.
In Singapore, the group visited a processor of Bak Kwa, a traditional pork jerky that’s popular in the region.
“About 12 percent of the jerky comes from U.S. Berkshire hogs,” Morris said. “While there, pork from Minnesota was being unloaded. The company said it likes U.S. pork’s consistency, leanness and outstanding packaging.”
There is room for growth in overall pork sales to Singapore, with U.S. pork’s market share only at 5 percent of the country’s total pork sector. Pork is a major protein food staple.
“Singapore is an attractive market with good prospects in high-end outlets where consumers are willing to pay premium prices for higher quality,” Sleezer said.
In Singapore, U.S. pork is often positioned as a premium product, selling for three to five times more than the price of competitors’ products, Morris said.
“Pre-prepared and processed foods are becoming popular as consumers seek convenience to meet their increasingly busy, urban lifestyles,” he said.
Pork Sales Rise in Vietnam
“As in Singapore, consumers in Vietnam are rapidly increasing pork in their diets,” Morris said. “This provides a great opportunity to capture a rapidly increasing market share. But we must first understand changing consumer needs and expectations.”
Vietnam’s traditional wet markets, where fresh pork is sold on the streets, are declining as consumers seek the conveniences of full-service grocery stores.
“U.S. pork is viewed as a superior product in terms of taste and quality,” Morris said. “It’s marketed as such by U.S. import partners and buyers.”
U.S. pork is heavily featured in restaurants there, especially those with newer, more modern menu offerings.
Surprisingly, Vietnam is a booming market for American barbecue,” Luckey said.
In 2019, the Pork Checkoff team will follow up with customers they met in Asia to bring more U.S. pork to their shelves and menus.
“We can do a lot to form relationships long-distance, but sometimes that personal touch can make all the difference,” Stolt said. “Even though we’re half a world apart, it doesn’t feel like that when we’ve shared a meal and talked about what motivates and connects us – safe, wholesome, quality food.”
This food stall, made famous by the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, at the well-known Singapore Tiong Bahru Market showed the juxtaposition between modern retailers and traditional wet markets. Upstairs from the wet market are a variety of traditional food stalls that have been passed down for generations.
In bustling Macau, the trade team visited Sands Casinos to learn about its large-scale kitchen operations for guests and staff.
Celebrity chef Jack Lee and Gerald Smith, USDA’s senior ag attaché at the U.S. Consulate, promote U.S. pork at the Aeon Grocery Store. Bill Luckey, a Nebraska pork producer, did a radio interview with a reporter at the event.
Top 5 Take-Aways from EuroTier
By Mike King and Marlys Miller
EuroTier, held every two years in Hanover, Germany, offers insights into how the European pork industry is facing 21st-century challenges. As guests (Mike and Marlys) of its organizer, the German Agricultural Society, the Pork Checkoff learned from pig farmers, veterinarians, and allied industry representatives at the four-day November show, with five key takeaways:
- Consumers and regulators present challenges.
European and U.S. pig sectors face many universal challenges. Leading the list is the knowledge and information gap between farms and increasingly urban consumers.
One speaker addressed a recent survey that asked 18- to 36-year-old consumers in the Netherlands, “What do you think of when you hear the word farmer?” Not one respondent connected farmers with the fact that they produce food.
“Increasingly, the public is placing demands on how food, particularly animals, are raised,” said Caroline van der Plas, a food and farm advocate based in the Netherlands. “As farmers, you have to explain how food is produced and create a sense of wonder about how their food is raised.”
With food-related fears, Europeans and Americans differ. Experts at EuroTier said Americans fear germs, while Europeans, and Germans specifically, are more afraid of chemicals in food. So, Americans welcome post-harvest innovations such as bactericidal rinses of carcasses, but Germans view it as contamination.
Common issues on both sides of the Atlantic include challenges from activists and non-governmental organizations that question farming practices regarding the environment, animal well-being and food safety.
Lawmakers affect pig farmers in all countries. In Germany and other European nations, farmers voiced concerns about ensuring a future license to operate. In a very relatable example, German farmers face challenges for siting new hog buildings due to environmental restrictions and activist actions.
Nadine Henkel, a German pig farmer and veterinarian, runs a 1,250-sow farrow-to-wean operation with her husband. The couple would like to build a new sow unit on an existing site to double their production, but breaking ground has been a slow process.
“For a new barn, it requires 10 years to get a return on investment,” Henkel said. “Because our environmental laws change every few years, it’s hard to establish a long-term plan.”
- Threat of African swine fever (ASF) is heightened.
Walking up to the EuroTier entrance made it clear that protecting Germany from ASF was a high priority, with ASF-positive wild pigs now as close as neighboring Poland and Belgium. Instructional signs and disinfection mats greeted attendees. The intent was to protect German pork production, which is often likened to that of Iowa due to its large volume of grow-finish pigs within Europe.
Farmers, veterinarians and allied industry at EuroTier are focusing on biosecurity, innovation and building awareness to fight the spread of foreign animal diseases such as ASF.
- Biosecurity – Curtailing human traffic on farms and washing and disinfecting vehicles on/off the farm is being emphasized. This includes adopting the “Danish-entry” system of using a clean and dirty dividing line where clothing/boots, etc. must remain and not enter the clean side of a barn.
- Innovation – A new, truck disinfection system by Meier-Brakenberg drew keen interest. Offered in stationary and mobile options, the idea is to disinfect the outside of a truck entering or leaving a farm or packing plant. Another application could be at the border of a country or state. The product is not currently available in the United States.
- Building Awareness – Each of Germany’s 16 states implement education and outreach to thwart ASF. For example, the Lower Saxony State Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (LAVES in German) exhibits outlined biosecurity measures for farms, animal transporters and hunters, as well as ASF control strategies, diagnosis and disease progression details.
“Humans can easily transfer items contaminated with ASF and are therefore a major way that ASF can travel from one area to another,” said Christiane Linne-Jonas, DVM, with LAVES. “We have been communicating with hunters about the potential risk of ASF transmission from processing and transport of infected meat from wild pigs.”
As of late November, hunters in North Rhine- Westphalia had harvested a record 66,000 wild boars. To support hunters’ efforts, two of Germany’s leading packing plants, Tönnies and Westfleisch, agreed to take 10,000 of the wild boars as “it’s in our best interest to prevent ASF spread to Germany.”
LAVES also addresses food safety issues. Officials are concerned about how consumers will view pork safety if ASF strikes.
“It’s something that we are thinking about now because we know that consumers will likely be skeptical about pork safety when a disease such as ASF occurs,” Linne-Jonas said.
As in the United States, ASF is a reportable disease in Germany. They want to avoid economic damage by protecting farms through strict biosecurity and sanitation methods.
“ASF is a very stoppable disease,” said Tony Pearson, a global technical consultant for biosecurity and hygiene with Antec International in the United Kingdom. “We’ve seen what can be done to protect commercial herds in places such as Poland that has ASF in wild pigs. The country has had one domestic herd break in four years, which occurred just recently. Meanwhile, the disease has been in the wild herd for many years.”
- New regulations are coming for castration.
Based on the 2013 Animal Welfare Act, legislation restricting castration in Germany was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2019. However, the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament) recently postponed implementation for two more years in an attempt to find workable solutions.
Proposed castration options have pros and cons, but the big debate centers on economic implications and the fact that the inhaled anesthesia option, in particular, needs more research and refinement to be practical.
Under the original plan, physical castration of male pigs less than eight days old would require veterinary-administered anesthesia by injection or inhalation to put the piglet to sleep or local anesthesia, which is common in other EU countries. The veterinarian requirement raised concerns about having enough personnel to perform the task.
Other options under the regulation include immunocastration or marketing intact male pigs, with limits now set at 5 percent of total German hog slaughter.
Local anesthesia receives the most support from farmers, their associations and veterinarians, but they emphasize that it should be allowed to be carried out by trained farmers.
Britta Becke, a practicing farmer, added that while she considers immunocastration appropriate, packing plants are apprehensive due to consumer concerns. From her perspective, local anesthetics are simple, safe and free from side effects.
Meanwhile, several European-based swine genetics companies are working to produce boar lines with reduced skatole and androstenone levels – the primary agents that create boar taint.
- Product innovations offer unique solutions.
One EuroTier silver innovation medal went to Taintstop from Belgium. The feed-based product is designed to reduce boar taint by influencing bacterial digestibility in the large intestine and reducing related production of skatole and other indole compounds.
Another pig production silver medal went to Pig T pig toilet by Big Dutchman. It is designed to immediately separate urine from feces and litter to reduce emissions. Flooring allows urine to move into a catch trough and into a separate storage tank. A conveyor belt removes feces and litter to another collection unit.
Also a silver medal winner, the EZ Clean Corner for Chain Feeding systems from Hog Slat accommodates cleaning and flow of dry feeding systems.
Winning the gold medal, Speedy Trough Suction Unit from Meier-Brakenberg promotes optimal feed hygiene. Connected to the gun of a high-pressure washer, the Speedy Trough Suction removes wet or dry feed, sucking it into a container. It eliminates hand cleaning and accommodates quick, thorough cleaning.
- Digitization aids farmers, appeases consumers.
EuroTier’s emphasis on “Digital Animal Farming” could not be overlooked. The show highlighted technologies to improve the health/welfare of animals, enhance the environment and improve farm efficiency and sustainability.
U.S. farms use digital technology, but the pace of integration by European livestock production is impressive. From common ventilation and feed system usage to full chain-wide use of sensors to determine animal movement, growth and performance, digitization is happening.
Many companies offered cloud-based solutions that can be accessed 24/7 from a mobile phone to monitor and control equipment.
“Farmers have long been data managers,” said Karl Schlosser, EuroTier project manager. “The digital farm is a networked operation both internally and externally to selected partners.”
That could include connecting production sites with data management services, a veterinarian, a packer and even a retailer.
Clemens Tönnies, co-owner of Tönnies Group, a leading German meat processor, said European consumers continuously demand increased transparency from farms, so on-farm data are critical.
“We conduct onsite animal welfare checks and provide feedback to producers because people want to know where their meat came from and how the animal was treated,” Tönnies said. “With traceability and transparency through digitization, we can provide this to them.”
German consumers, just like their U.S. counterparts, are asking questions about how their food is produced.
- To help guard against African swine fever, biosecurity measures, such as sanitation mats, greeted those entering EuroTier.
- Trucks entering or leaving a farm or packing plant can be disinfected using a new system from Meier-Brakenberg not yet available in the U.S.
- EuroTier attendees from around the world saw innovations ranging from new farrowing stall designs to digital production solutions.
- With “Digital Animal Farming” as the theme, vendors offered tools to manage production data, control equipment and maintain animal identification through the chain.
Focus on African Swine Fever Continues
By Mike King
As the steady drumbeat of African swine fever (ASF) reports continues, the Pork Checkoff has ramped up its efforts to collaborate and to prepare for all possibilities if the costly disease reaches American pig farms.
“A foreign animal disease (FAD), such as ASF, poses dire threats, which is why we have plans and programs in place,” said Dave Pyburn, DVM, senior vice president of science and technology for the Checkoff.
“We are collaborating with all of our industry partners and the USDA to ensure that actions taken before, during and after a potential FAD outbreak are relevant and workable for today’s dynamic pork industry,” Pyburn said.
The key is for producers, veterinarians and other industry stakeholders to make the right decisions and take action, he said.
For the Checkoff, disseminating information is a central mission. Key communications related to FAD preparedness can be found via these methods:
Visit pork.org/fad to reach the Pork Checkoff’s central FAD info hub.
Subscribe to the Checkoff’s African Swine Fever Preparation Bulletin by calling (800) 456-6564 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Secure Pork Supply plan at securepork.org. The plan offers a business continuity plan for producers facing a FAD.
Make sure that your farm has a premises ID number (PIN) by going to pork.org/PIN. More than 90 percent of pig production sites have them, but 100 percent participation is needed.
Tips on Handling Animals Safely
By Carrie Webster
How pigs view and react to their environment makes animal handling an important aspect of raising pigs safely. The safety of the humans handling the animals is equally important, especially given that moving pigs, loading or unloading trailers and treating pigs are the leading causes of worker injuries on pig farms.
“Pig farmers need to recognize pigs’ behavior to ensure a safe working environment,” said Karen Hoare, director of producer learning and development for the Pork Checkoff. “A good handler relationship is based on respectful, safe, positive interaction developed by properly understanding the difference between a pig’s fear and curiosity.”
Pork Checkoff-funded research led to the development of the Safe Pig Handling resource that focuses on the safest ways to handle pigs.
“Worker safety is critical, which is why it’s the focus of one of the We CareSM principles,” Hoare said. “With the Worker Safety resource from the Pork Checkoff, producers can reduce both the incidence – and costs – associated with animal handling on the farm.”
Below are key tips for moving animals safely. For more about keeping your workers and pigs safe, go to pork.org/production/tools.
In 2019, the Safe Pig Handling resource will be expanded to include the topics of group housing, breeding, heat-checking, boar studs, semen collection and vaccinations.
- Understand pigs’ behavior – When a handler enters a pen, pigs will evaluate the situation and decide whether the worker poses a threat. Recognize pigs’ flight zone, which will vary from animal to animal and may change depending on the surroundings or the situation.
- Apply appropriate pressure – Pigs are pressured by any action that increases the level of attention they give to handlers. Approaching and entering a pig’s flight zone is pressure, as is the use of noise, visual stimuli or light physical touch. Once you initiate movement, release pressure. Smooth herd movement in the desired direction results in herd flow.
- Position your body – Once a pig begins to move, gauge how to position yourself to apply or release pressure effectively. With every pig, imagine a point-of-balance reference point at the pig’s shoulder.
- Use appropriate equipment – Use animal handling tools thoughtfully and minimally, and keep in mind that tools are not substitutes for smart positioning. Know the designed purpose of the tool in your hand and never use barn equipment as a substitute for the appropriate tool.
- Set up a route – When moving pigs, preparation is key. Pig instincts make them curious and wary. Allow pigs time to investigate obstacles to make moving less stressful. Anticipate distractions and remove obstacles.
“Be aware of the behavior of pigs and be conscientious about the body language messages you are sending,” Hoare said. “Take steps to reduce stress, frustration and the chance of injury to both pigs and people.”
On the Farm…
By Carrie Webster
Multiple PQA Plus® Renewals to Debut this Summer
An updated version of the Checkoff’s Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program will debut at World Pork Expo 2019. The new version will feature two certification options – first-time and renewal. The first-time certification provides new caretakers with the basic knowledge and skill set of the core content needed to be successful in the industry. The renewal certification allows experienced caretakers to renew on a scenario-based setting with an advisor or by using a fast-track presentation.
In the new version, advisors can customize a portion of the training to fit the caretaker or group based on experience and skills that need to be refreshed. Additional content is available for advisors to focus on particular areas of production.
Updated Resources Provide Consistent Training
The Pork Checkoff recently updated several online producer resources to help answer common questions and to prepare producers for future on-farm events. They are available in both English and Spanish.
Available are two online training modules:
- The Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA) online module will help farmers prepare for an audit of their farm. While the site assessment is an additional stepping stone to the CSIA, the module provides a consistent training for all employees across any system.
- The euthanasia training module also provides consistency for all producers. The module includes a description of the various euthanasia methods and directions for developing an action plan. By being consistent, the industry sets a high standard for animal care.
- The updated Swine Care Handbook, which can be downloaded, serves as a reference for both animal care and facility maintenance.
All of these resources are available at: pork.org/production/tools.
By the numbers…
By Jan Jorgensen
Nov. 12-18, the Pork Board joined 300+ groups to observe the U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week and World Antibiotic Awareness Week. Directed by the Centers for Disease Control, the event raised awareness of antibiotic resistance risks and the importance for human, animal health and the environment sectors to use antibiotics responsibly.
From fresh pork at the supermarket to pork pizza toppings at take-out, 97 percent of Americans bought pork in 2017, according to Pork Checkoff research. The study is providing in-depth data to help grow pork sales.
At the 91st National FFA Convention, the Checkoff and other pork industry groups shared animal care resources with more than 2,500 youth and 1,000 advisors and parents.
One out of 10
Today, diabetes affects more than 30 million Americans or one out of 10 people. One of the healthy diet patterns used to manage diabetes is the Mediterranean style diet pattern, which is often described as one that limits red meat. During Diabetes Awareness Month in November, the Pork Board shared research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that shows that people with diabetes can eat lean, unprocessed pork and still reap the health benefits associated with the traditional Mediterranean diet.
27 days of giving
Producers pay it forward – The third annual Hams Across America campaign kicked off on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 27 and ran through Dec. 23. During the 27 days of giving, pork producers and others in the pork industry showed their appreciation for friends, family and neighbors through the gift of ham and other pork products. The annual event also highlights pork donations made throughout the year as producers live out the We CareSM principle of giving back to their communities. This year’s highlights include:
- The National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council and the Iowa Pork Producers Association held a kickoff event where they served breakfast to clients of the Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines.
- The Illinois Pork Producers Association, Smithfield Foods and Prairie Fresh Pork® donated nearly 90,000 pounds of pork to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
- The Oklahoma Pork Council packed and distributed backpacks for students in need as part of their Pork for Packs program.
- The North Carolina Pork Council and Smithfield Foods donated over 21 tons of pork to the Central and Eastern North Carolina Food Bank.
- The Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council partnered with the Harrisburg Police Department to distribute holiday food boxes.
- The Nebraska Pork Producers Association donated hams to homeless shelters in the Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, areas.
- RealPigFarming.com highlighted the Minnesota Pork Board’s Oink Outings food bank donations, the Ohio Pork Council’s social challenge to producers to pay it forward during the campaign, as well as many other stories from across the industry.
After paying it forward to loved ones and those in need, pig farmers shared their stories on social media using #RealPigFarming and #HamsAcrossAmerica.