Cold weather and a range of thoughts

Another week of winter in southern Minnesota. Yesterday morning when I left the house at 6:45 am to go to one of our research barns it was -22F (-30C). While that sounds terribly cold to many readers of this blog, in our region weaned pigs still got transported, market pigs went to slaughter, etc – all without too many problems. The good news for those of raising pigs in confinement – the pigs are doing very well in the conditions we provide versus how it was done 30 or more years ago.

This week, the USDA reported weighted average price for 95,765 SEW pigs was $52.80 per pig delivered, the highest reported average price since I began tracking this weekly data in 1998. I’ve had private reports of large groups of SEW pigs being offered for sale at prices of $75/head. Corn at $6.20/bu and DDGS at $180/ton haven’t taken the optimism out of the market for summer hog prices based on these sales.

This past week I spent 2 days in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Pork Congress. One of the discussion points I had with many people was the future of public production research in the US. As readers know, I spent my professional career at a Professor of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska where I researched housing and management issues for nursery and grow-finish pigs. Many of you are using the results of this research as you make daily decisions in your production facilities.

Since my retirement from the University of Nebraska, I have been involved as science director in a series of private wean-finish research sites. Thus, I have a perspective of the opportunities and challenges of each research system.

Why such an interest in how research is funded? Dr Ronnie Green is the new Vice-Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (the ag college) at the University of Nebraska. Last week I participated via internet in an all faculty meeting where he laid out his vision for how the University of Nebraska would approach the challenges of funding and staffing in coming years.

One of the most interesting slides in his presentation was data from the Farm Foundation which compared the current growth in overall ag productivity (1.4% per year) versus the growth needed to double output by the year 2050 (1.75%). Doubling of ag productivity is seen by many to be necessary to meet the food needs of the estimated world population in 2050. I’ve seen projections that suggests that given current patterns of birthrate decline in many countries vs rising longevity rates, etc, the world’s population will peak sometime around 2050 before reaching a relative plateau.

In the US, those of us in production agriculture are becoming concerned about the research base that has resulted in the abundance of ‘cheap’ food in the US. With the US consumer spending less than 10% of their disposable income on food, we have the cheapest food costs in the world. Because of this, I have heard policy makers talk about the need to shift the public funding of ag research. They argue that with such cheap food, we don’t need research on how to produce more or better. A better use of the money is all of the other public policy needs, such as health care, etc.

As a result of the declining funding of production research with public monies, the infrastructure to do production research at land grant universities and within USDA-ARS is declining. Large production systems are investing in production research to address information needs, and using this science based information to make daily management decisions. How do those of you not connected with private research get access to cutting edge information that lets you remain competitive?

I don’t have the answer to these questions and concerns. However, at the Minnesota Pork Congress several producers who are active in policy discussions within the Minnesota Pork Producers organization are thinking the same thoughts. Is it time to think outside the box and utilize checkoff dollars (and other funding sources) in different and unique ways to keep critical production research answers flowing to pork producers?

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