What are the future challenges to pork production

The Minnesota Pork Congress was Wednesday and Thursday this past week and I had the opportunity to speak with many of the readers of this blog. A common theme in our conversations seemed to be speculation regarding who is expanding and when will the expansion in production impact the markets. There was also a lot of discussion regarding how many wean-finish and grow-finish spaces will be constructed this summer and everyone agreed – quite a few.

At the same time as many were asking about expansion plans and impacts, some of you were asking for my thoughts on the major issues that will impact the industry is 5 and 10 years. This is a little tougher, but the list I came up with includes:

1) Exports – with over 25% of our product now leaving the US, any policy decision that influences this will impact us. The free trade agreements with Korea and other countries will help stabilize some of our export numbers, but we are increasingly at the mercy of our trading partners with our trade numbers often determined by issues unrelated to the quality or price of our pork products. Successful producers in the future will include considerations of foreign trade in their risk management decisions.

2) Animal Welfare – I don’t see any relief from this debate. The consumer continues to be unaware of production agriculture and relies on many sources to form opinions about our production practices. This past week there has been quite a bit of discussion among university officials about the recent Yahoo News ranking of the most useless college degrees that ranked several agriculture pursuits as the most useless. This included animal science/ husbandry and veterinary science. Like it or not, our long term ability to produce products such as pork, beef, etc in a safe, humane and relatively cheap manner will be dependent on our ability to inform the consumer regarding the bias in the options being presented by such groups as HSUS, PETA, etc. Their long term goal is no animal agriculture, not improved animal agriculture.

3) Global population and food security – how do we feed a world population that is expected to peak sometime around the year 2050. Many speak of a need to double output in the next 30-40 years, with a fixed production area for land and more fights over water allocation. Pork production will need to continue to improve in efficiency (not only feed:gain or pigs/sow/yr) but also pork per gallon of water used, pork per unit of environmental emission, etc.

4) Ownership of production facilities – how do we transfer much of our production base to the next generation of producers? While we have youth involved in many production aspects, much of the asset base of pork production in the Midwest is in the hands of producers who accumulated these assets over many years – generally meaning ownership is 50+ in age and often over 60+ in age. There is a growing need to develop and implement generational transition plans for much of the production base that exists. While youth will make many mistakes along the way, we need their enthusiasm and willingness to risk change.

5) Production efficiencies – these will continue to improve. Ten years ago no one talked about 30 pigs per female per year and now we’re envisioning up to 40 pigs per female per year. We have production systems achieving 2.3 lb of feed per lb of liveweight gain wean-finish and 1.75-1.8 lb/d daily gain for the same period. In the future we will be talking about energetic efficiencies using terms such as lb of carcass lean per unit of energy intake, etc.

6) Environmental concerns – production methods including facilities will evolve to less the environmental footprint per lb of carcass lean produced. I don’t think we’ve even begun to imagine the possibilities of how this improvement will occur or the impact these improvements will have on our image with the consumer.

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