On March 6-8, Pork Forum was held in Kansas City. As a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect. All in all, it was a very rewarding and interesting experience. Here are my reflections on what I experienced at Pork Forum, but first a little background:
Pork Forum is the annual meeting of both the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council. These are two very different organizations with different rules that govern, but commonly serve all types of pork producers from across the U.S. They both can work on the same projects, and yet they have distinct differences.
National Pork Forum is funded by pork checkoff dollars. Checkoff dollars are deducted from each pork producer’s check when they market hogs. It equates to $.40 for each $100 of pork sold. Pork checkoff funds are highly regulated by the USDA and can only be used for education, research or promotion. The number of National Pork Board delegates is determined by the dollar amount of pork sold in the state. Minnesota has a fairly large representation with 12 delegates. There is an approval process where each state pork delegate needs to apply and be approved by the USDA before they can be a voting member.
National Pork Producers Council is funded by voluntary pork checkoff funds. Pork producers are part of the SIP (Strategic Investment Program) and the funds are not nearly as regulated as the NPB (National Pork Board) checkoff funds. Typically, the NPPC funds are spent on lobbying efforts and other projects that would not qualify under NPB regulations. Again, the number of delegates are determined by the amount of SIP participation. Minnesota has 19 delegates, with Iowa the only state with more delegates.
The first day we arrived at Pork Forum, we were fortunate to watch a sneak preview of the movie Farmland (www.farmlandfilm.com). The movie was directed by award winning director James Moll and is scheduled to be released on March 26, 2014. One of the featured farmers in the film is a pork producer from Edgerton, Minnesota. And he was at Pork Forum as a guest speaker and I was lucky enough to meet him! I cannot say any more about the movie because we were all required to sign a non-disclosure to not discuss the movie until after the release date. I will just say, “it is very good and please go see it!”
One of the main goals of Pork Forum is to elect board members for both NPB and NPPC boards. Minnesota held it’s own state caucus where people running for both boards came and talked to us about why we should vote for them. The voting process is fairly complex as votes are counted on a weighted basis based on vote rankings. Let’s just say Minnesota is a “big deal” (based of the number of delegates – Minnesota had 12 NPB delegates and 19 NPPC delegates) and we were one of the more important caucuses to visit for those seeking board positions. Minnesota had one delegate, Terry Wolters of Pipestone, who ran for the NPPC board and was successful. Even though we voted for NPB board positions, U.S. Secretary of Ag, Tom Vilsack is required to approve those NPB board members winning our election. NPPC does not need the Ag Secretary’s approval for those voted to the board.
Another component of Pork Forum was to discuss any advisements (NPB) and resolutions (NPPC). For the most part, all advisements and resolutions were approved with little debate. PEDv (Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus), along with animal rights activists, were the two hot topics on the minds of delegates. In fact, the National Pork Board earmarked $650,000 towards the research of PEDv, a devastating pig virus affecting all of the U.S. It is estimated that over 8,000,000 baby pigs have died from the virus. Even as devastating as the virus is, PEDv is not a food safety issue.
In addition to PEDv as a major issue discussed at Pork Forum, the animal rights agenda was also talked about. As hog farmers, we need to keep telling our story. Part of telling our story also involves listening and acknowledging concerns of consumers. Farmers need to engage in meaningful and respectful conversations with consumers. NPB also introduced a new initiative, www.porkcares.org. This new initiative strongly encourages farmers and employees to understand and consistently use best practices in raising animals. America’s hog farmers are committed to responsible and ethical animal agriculture. I like the messaging!
One interesting note – both the president of NPB and NPPC this past year were from Minnesota. Karen Richter was NPB president and Randy Spronk was NPPC president. Minnesota was well represented.
So who attends Pork Forum? Hog farmers. It’s not only pork producers found typically in the Midwest that attend. Other types of pork producers also attend such as producers who raise show pigs, FFA pigs, direct-marketed pigs, and pigs raised on both large and small conventional farms. We need them all! And, in addition, there were pork producers from all geographical areas of the U.S. I even met a couple of pork producers from Alaska!
As a first-timer to Pork Forum, I can say it was quite educational and definitely worth my time. I loved meeting new pork producers from all over the U.S.(in fact, I made a point to meet different hog farmers), reconnecting with pork producers I have previously met, connecting with Minnesota Pork Producer Council and Pork Board members, and meeting and talking with staff from both the NPB and NPPC offices. But perhaps more important I saw the camaraderie between all pork producers to work together on what is best for the industry and consumers. And I am proud to be a pork producer!
More pictures from Pork Forum: