Illinois Pork Expo

The annual Illinois Pork Expo is a time when legislators get a chance to talk to pork producers personally. Here, State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, talks to Illinois Pork Producers Association board member and allied industry representative Alan Hays.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Relief that trade wars seem to have found peace tempered with concern about potential foreign animal diseases peppered the speeches and conversations among pig farmers, politicians and exhibitors at the Illinois Pork Expo in Springfield Feb. 4-5.

Cautious optimism abounded about phase one of the China-U.S. trade agreement, the potential for increased business with Mexico and Canada following USMCA’s finalization, and about further opportunities with Japan.

But concern about foreign animal diseases, specifically African swine fever, was often mentioned.

More vets needed

The Illinois Pork Producers Association is leading the way, with other Illinois commodity groups, in requesting $500,000 in state funding to hire four more state veterinarians as part of foreign animal disease prevention efforts, said Jennifer Tirey, IPPA executive director.

That would be an increase from one state veterinarian today.

At the same time, IPPA has been active in getting farmers to sign up for a premises Identification number, which would be important if a foreign disease were to hit in the U.S. It might be the key to keeping the industry going, Tirey said.

“It is not just the pork industry that would suffer if AFS were to come here, it’s all of us,” she said. “Such a disease would stop movement of pigs, affect exports in general, erode consumer confidence and collapse prices.”

Legislative concerns

Pork producers talked to legislators about this and other issues at the event’s legislative dinner in the evening. State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, said ethanol is one of the issues he is hearing the most about from farmers right now.

“This week is about ethanol. Other issues will be other weeks,” Sommer said of his interaction with farmers.

Education is also a topic high on the list for both producers and politicians. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, the chairman of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Rural Ag Council, said she would like to see more agricultural opportunities for urban youths. She said her daughter was interested in agriculture but school programs in Chicagoland are few.

Changing strategies

Brian Humphreys, vice president of the National Pork Board, spoke about the innovation of Illinois pork producers. He said he often thought he had a good, new idea, and when he asked around, discovered Illinois was already doing it.

He explained some of the new approaches the National Pork Board is taking to adapt to changing times dominated by such issues as trade, foreign animal disease and competition from plant-based “meats.” The organization will move from having committees to action-oriented task forces, and from programs to targeted projects with a start and a finish date, he said.

Because of the pace of changing issues, the board will shift focus from a five-year strategic plan, which can become “antiquated,” to a one-year model which is more flexible, he told producers.

Among task force projects this year are “building trust” with consumers, producer engagement, and examining euthanasia issues in light of disease threats. The organization hopes to get more contract growers involved. Sometimes such farmers see themselves more as corn and soybean farmers who have some pigs, Humphreys said. But their involvement in the pork industry is important, he added.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.