By MEGGIE. I. FOSTER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann recently spoke at the Indiana Pork annual meeting applauding Hoosier pork producers for their continued efforts to make agriculture a key economic driver for the state of Indiana.
“I’m extremely proud of the agriculture industry here in Indiana and will continue to do the prudent things to keep the industry strong moving forward,” said Ellspermann, who recently took office with new Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in January.
In addition to Ellspermann, key guests included new Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Gina Sheets; Otto Doering, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, who provided a thought-provoking presentation on climate change; Neil Dierks, of the National Pork Producers’ Council (NPPC) and Ernie Barnes, of the National Pork Board.
Neil Dierks provided a report from NPPC, the legislative arm of the industry, largely considered the global voice for the U.S. pork industry.
“We’ve seen huge growth in the world population in the last 1,000 years with considerable density in the Asian population,” said Dierks. “While today the global feed supply is meeting demands, the real issue in food production will be in the coming years.”
Dierks went on to discuss the growth in world population (from 7 billion to 9 billion) in the next 40 years with population generally increasing in urban areas over time. With the growth in cities across the world, Dierks anticipates a likely increase in meat consumption, fueling more demand for U.S. pork products.
“To me, that’s all positive news for our industry,” he said, adding that “our trend lines for pork exports have been quite successful in the last decade increasing over 7 percent. For the first time since 1979, we have become a net exporter of pork.”
Dierks also addressed a few industry concerns and challenges ahead, including the gestation stall versus group penning debate.
“Housing changes will no doubt have a broad impact on our industry with widespread consequences,” he said. “What we try to do is point out the realities of each system and put the decision in the hands of the producers.”
However, with nearly 17 states in the European Union (EU) banning the use of gestation stalls (effective Jan. 1), momentum for change has quickly made its way into the United States, Dierks lamented. He said that the EU is currently the second largest producer of pork after China, but because of the ban, that ranking will likely disappear as many producers will exit the industry.
“In the end, the retailers are driving this, consumers will continue to consume pork and make up the difference,” he said.
Since 2002, states such as Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, California and Ohio have all passed legislation limiting and/or banning the use of gestation stalls (used to house pregnant pigs for a portion of their gestation). Additionally, retailers such as Kmart, Target, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks and Cracker Barrel, to only name a few, have made statements that they plan to purchase only gestation-stall free pork in the future.
“Some of these are hard and fast dates, but most are un-specified; and there are still looming questions about the supply chain as well,” Dierks explained.
Unfortunately, he added, “many retailers have been unable to realize the unintended consequences of their actions, such as making the announcement without verification of the supply, at what cost, requirements necessary to segregate the pigs in processing, increased cost to producers, processors, retailers and consumers, an increased carbon footprint - all of which will likely force small producers out of business.”
Moving forward, Dierks anticipates that producers will likely see government regulation issued to convert all gestation housing from stalls to group penning or a similar group-housing system in the near future. A comment from the audience questioned NPPC’s role in support of all pork producers.
“Is NPPC just rolling over on this issue and allowing pork producers to take the fall or doing something about it,” questioned John Swisher, of JBS United, an animal nutrition and health business based out of Sheridan, Ind.
“I can assure you that NPPC is not rolling over on this, it’s war folks,” said Mark Legan, a Coatesville, Ind., pork producer, who also serves on the NPPC Board of Directors.
Dierks concerned at the presence of ag media in the room, only commented to say that the NPPC is “engaged in this conversation, and that’s all I’m willing to say at this point.”
Ernie Barnes, with the National Board Pork, the pork checkoff or producer-funded organization, later chimed in during his presentation saying that “there’s a lot of confusion on this issue from all sides.”
“What we’re trying to do is show what producers are doing from an education aspect through our Operation Mainstreet program where producers go out to local civic groups and discuss modern pork production. We’re not trying to say one (system) is better than the other, just that these are the two options and each have their pluses and minuses.”
Barnes also said that producers have had to learn to open their barn doors on many issues beyond the housing debate such as antibiotics, ractopamine, castration, tail docking and euthanasia.
“We’re looking at being a different kind of engaged – being transparent, so consumers know what we’re doing and why, exploring consumer insights and looking at economic models and how change could support sustainability in the future,” he said.
In addition to the informative national updates from both Dierks and Barnes, particularly on the industry’s animal welfare concerns, Indiana Pork President Heather Hill, a hog farmer from Greenfield, Ind., also awarded both the Producer Meritorious and Industry Meritorious honor during the annual meeting hosted on Feb. 5 at the offices of Indiana Pork in Indianapolis, Ind.
The Producer Meritorious award was presented to Bill Tempel, of Gentryville, Ind., former member of the Indiana Pork Board of Directors and owner of Tempel Genetics, a full line seed stock and semen supplier based in southern Indiana. The Industry Meritorious honor was awarded to Bev Gard (R-Greenfield, Ind.), former Indiana State Senator and chair of the Senate Environmental and Agriculture committee.
For more information from Indiana Pork, visit www.indianapork.com