|By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
SOUTH CHARLESTON, Ohio — Operation Main Street (OMS) has pork producers from across Ohio talking to chambers, rotary clubs and other civic organizations about modern pork production.
Chuck Wildman is one of the volunteers for the Pork Checkoff-funded program. He, along with other program volunteers, was given intensive speaker training at the start of OMS.
“The idea is to take people like me, who are hands-on with the hog industry, and place us in front of the American consumer to put a story out there that accurately reflects what goes on day-to-day in the industry,” Wildman said.
“The feeling is that the American consumer really needs to know a lot more about where their food comes from,” he said.
Wildman has a breed to wean sow unit of 650 sows. He takes about half of those to market and sells the rest to a local crop farmer who has finishing barns.
Operation Main Street gives him and the other volunteers an opportunity to communicate with consumers, address any concerns they may have and answer questions.
“I’d like people to come away with the understanding that they’re the most important person in the hog industry,” Wildman said. “Basing that argument on the shift, the transition that’s occurred in the industry since the 1980’s when the American consumer demanded a leaner product and the pork industry wasn’t delivering that.”
So pork producers altered the genetics of the pig and removed the fat. But that triggered a cascade of things, Wildman said.
When they bred leaner pigs, the animals couldn’t stay warm outside and had to be brought inside.
“When you bring them inside, you’re concentrating your production,” Wildman said. “So you start creating these larger animal concentrations with increasing environmental and health concerns.”
And consumers are more demanding that environmental and health issues are also addressed, Wildman said.
Yet the groups Wildman talked to have given him a very friendly response.
A typical response from attendees is that they had no idea that the industry was that complicated or that it could be that sophisticated, he said.
“People don’t have any understanding of what goes on,” he said.
“We’re trying to give the American consumer a message of how their food is produced and where it’s coming from and some of the impact they can have on things with their everyday purchases.
“We have to respond when they choose a new direction,” he said.
“I really want people to understand that. They are the most important and powerful people in the industry. If they change what they buy, we have to change what we produce and how we do it. That’s the message that’s out there.”
And consumers are getting the message. Almost 40 percent of the audience members who have filled out evaluations report that the presentation changed their opinion of the pork industry, according to Stephanie Stute with the Ohio Pork Producers (OPP).
Written comments on forms such as, “pork industry cares,” and “scientific farming” further illustrate the impact being made by the OMS speakers, Stute said.
“We know it takes a lot of time and energy for our producers to get out there and tell the industry’s story of innovation, quality and environmental stewardship,” said Dick Isler, OPP executive vice president. “We cannot thank them enough because we know their efforts are making a big difference for our industry.”
For more information about Operation Main Street call 800-456-PORK.