DES MOINES, Iowa ― The world's biggest pork show is back, just as major industry issues at hand become more urgent.
The World Pork Expo, hosted by the National Pork Producers Council, is the largest pork-specific trade show in the world. The three-day event kicked off on June 9 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The 2019 event was canceled due to African Swine Fever and the expo last year was called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NPPC President Jen Sorenson opened her speech during a news conference kicking off the World Pork Expo Wednesday morning saying it was a thrill to be back at the event, which showcases the latest developments in the pork industry, but that work needed to be done to secure the industry's future.
“U.S. pork producers have a number of near-term challenges and priorities, including a federal court ruling that, if implemented later this month, will cause tremendous harm to hog farmers across the country," Sorenson said.
Sorenson was referring to a federal court’s decision to strike down a provision of USDA’s New Swine Inspection System, allowing for faster harvest facility line speeds. NSIS was initiated during the Clinton administration and evaluated at five pilot plants over 20 years and was approved for industry-wide adoption in 2019.
According to the NPPC, the order, which takes effect on June 29, would reduce plant capacity at six plants running at NSIS line speeds by as much as 25%.
"Smaller hog farmers will disproportionately bear the brunt of the court’s impact, undermining pork industry competition," NPPC said in a statement.
Good to be back
Terry Wolters, the president-elect for NPPC, along with his wife, own Stoney Creek Farms in Pipestone, Minn., where they have ownership in several sow farms. He operates a farrow-to-wean enterprise, marketing 28,000 hogs per year, manages a 2,400 head research finisher along with farming corn and soybeans.
Wolters said the World Pork Expo is a huge fundraiser for NPPC and cancelling the event the last two summers was difficult for the organization but something that had to be done.
"It was a really difficult decision for the board not to host, but at the same time we were very concerned about what was going on around the globe," Wolters said of the 2019 and 2020 shows. "And protecting our borders and protecting our industry from a herd health perspective."
He said the overall vibe at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on day one of the expo was positive, but safety was still a top priority.
"It's definitely good to be back, but I mean everybody's very cautious," he said. "You've got an industry that's very vibrant right now, we're experiencing great markets, and profitability is up."
Pork producers are grateful to be in that position, he said, after multiple years of decreased export markets due to tariffs, and then last year, when the pandemic decreased harvest supply and hit the industry particularly hard.
"So the last three years have been a little rough, and we certainly are thankful and appreciate the opportunity we have today," Wolters said. "Around the fairgrounds here, it's very upbeat with producers, and I think producers like to be with other producers, and learn from each other."
"As far as the largest impact for Minnesota, it's this line speed issue that we're faced with," Wolters said.
He said if the federal district court ruling stands, it will have a great impact on Hormel's pork processing plant in Austin, Minn., as well as the WholeStone Farms plant in Fremont, Neb. WholeStone Farms purchased the plant from Hormel in 2018, but continues a close supply partnership with the owners. Wolters said those two plants are still "producer owned."
According to Dermot Hayes, an economist with Iowa State University, if the ruling is not reversed before the June 29 deadline, it would result in a 2.5% loss in pork packing plant capacity nationwide, and $82.3 million in reduced income for hog farmers.
"But the greater concern is in southwest and southern Minnesota, because we have a lot of pigs that go to that Austin plant and that Fremont plant, so we're going to see more like a 25% reduction," Wolters said.
He said the sense of urgency for the USDA to publicly back a stay on the order — at least — is now high, with less than 30 days to respond.
"The pipeline is full of pigs and that's going to create a problem," he said.
The second priority concern that Wolters said was pressing is Proposition 12, which was approved by California voters in 2018 and set to be implemented at the start of 2022.
Proposition 12 bans the sale of uncooked pork from states where sows don't have pens measuring at least 24 square feet in California. It would apply to any Midwest farmer who wants to sell product in California.
The issue right now, Wolters said, is producers attempting to comply with the regulation that has yet to be totally drafted.
"More importantly, you've got a state that is going to dictate how we in the Midwest should produce pork for it to be consumed in their state," he said. "But at this point, (Californians) are 15% of the U.S. pork consumption, and we have to be aware of that."