October is pork month, a good time to reflect on the year in pork production thus far–and, what a year it has been! Agriculture has grown to 31 percent of the state’s total economic output, manure is finally getting the spotlight it deserves for rebuilding soil health and protecting water quality, and the Iowa Pork Queen, Gracie Greiner, made national headlines when she sleeved a sow at the Iowa State Fair.
Pork production’s eventful year extends well beyond Iowa. Take, for example, the heightened risk of African swine fever that has been the focus of so much attention across agriculture worldwide. U.S. pork producers have ramped up on-farm biosecurity and disease prevention as African swine fever (ASF) wreaks havoc in China and other areas of the world. These measures–and others taken by the USDA and Customs and Border Protection–are key to preventing an outbreak that would be devastating for U.S. producers and the rural economy., is a top priority across our industry and with the USDA.
Maintaining and expanding access to export markets is also a critical matter for hog farmers nationwide. Because pork is one of our country’s most competitive export products, it has been in the crosshairs for retaliation stemming from trade disputes. Fortunately, we have seen some positive momentum on this front of late. A new trade agreement signed with Japan in September puts U.S. pork back on a level playing field with international competitors that recently secured more favorable access to this pork-loving nation. After more than a year of severely restricted market access in China, we are starting to see more U.S. pork exported to a country that desperately needs reliable sources of pork. Due to ASF, pork production in China has dropped by as much as half, according to estimates, prompting a food price inflation challenge for what is a staple of the Chinese diet. China’s temporary exemption of punitive tariffs on U.S. pork has prompted an increase in exports. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is seeking a permanent exemption from these tariffs.
In other favorable trade news, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement appears to have enough congressional support for ratification. NPPC is pushing hard for a vote to get it ratified this year.
Through it all, pork continues to be the most widely eaten protein in the world. Lean, nutrient-rich pork is versatile, affordable and accessible. More consumers are firing up at-home grills and cookers to try their hand at smoking shoulders, butts, ribs and loins. Ham sandwiches are still the most popular cold cut creation, and more restaurants offering all-day breakfast are pushing sausage, bacon and Canadian bacon into the limelight they deserve.
Speaking of bacon, it seems to be on everything, as consumers continue to go hog wild for the most popular part of the pig. Beyond a burger topping, bacon is being paired with everything from steak to popcorn. You’ll even find it in a glass of “bacon-washed” whiskey. Demand for U.S. pork has never been stronger.
While we’re one of the most talked about ag products, farmers stay focused on the care of their pigs, people, communities and environment. Every day, producers quietly do their work–up before dawn, performing chores in the barn and providing the right air, feed and water for pigs. They are also harvesting crops and applying manure back to the land. We should all be proud of this sustainable cycle of agriculture.
Along with that hard work and focus comes the strength and commitment to keep improving, providing food, fuel and fiber, and powering their local economies. It’s important to take a moment to step back and gather perspective. It is a true “a-ha” moment for many when they recognize what pork producers contribute to their lives–a market for corn and soybeans, a natural fertilizer, strong rural economies and, of course, a complete protein source packed with essential amino acids.
I’m proud of the progress farmers have made in efficiency and productivity, and how it directly correlates to improvements in sustainability. Today, we are using 75.9 percent less land, 25.1 percent less water, 7.7 percent less carbon and 7.0 percent less energy to produce more food. Tomorrow, we’ll be even better.
Porktober is a logical time to recognize the challenges faced by pork producers and to salute them for their accomplishments past, present and future.
Jen Sorenson is communications director for Iowa Select Farms and also serves as vice president on the National Pork Producers Council.