Q & A Howard Roth

Howard “AV” Roth Jr. is president of the National Pork Producers Council. He is a fifth generation farmer who owns and operates Roth Feeder Pig, Inc., which includes 3,000 sows in a farrow-to-wean enterprise, marketing over 75,000 head annually. The business also includes 1,200 acres of corn, oats, and alfalfa, along with an Angus herd.

Roth and his wife Christine have seven children and reside on the family farm near Wauzeka, Wisconsin.

IFT: NPPC recently held a teleconference regarding the importance of the Relief for Producers Act that has been introduced in the Senate. Can you explain the bill and what impact it would have on the pork industry?

Roth: In early July, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced the RELIEF for Producers Act. The bill would: 1) compensate hog and poultry producers who are forced to euthanize or donate animals that can’t be processed into the food supply due to COVID-related packing plant capacity reductions; 2) increase funding for animal health surveillance and laboratories, which have appropriately assisted and shared resources with their public health partners; and 3) revise the Commodity Credit Corporation charter so a pandemic-driven national emergency qualifies for funding.

NPPC strongly supports the RELIEF for Producers Act, as it would provide a critical lifeline to thousands of farmers who could otherwise go out of business, leading to consolidation and contraction of the U.S. pork industry. U.S. pork producers are in desperate need of federal assistance to address this unprecedented crisis. NPPC urges Congress to quickly address this crisis as it begins work on the next COVID relief package.

IFT: At the same teleconference, (economist) Steve Meyer shared that the pork industry could lose as much as $5 billion based on projected returns earlier this year. Can anything be done to shrink that dollar figure? 

Roth: The bottleneck created by COVID-related plant shutdowns will have a lasting negative impact on U.S. hog farmers. That’s why immediate relief is required. While implementation of the Defense Production Act, which prioritized the continuity of packing plant operations, has improved the situation, about two million hogs remain  backed-up on farms, according to Dr. Meyer.

Pork producers urgently need Congress to address this crisis by including relief in the next COVID aid package. The consequences of inaction are too great. 

IFT: When you speak with pork producers, what are their biggest concerns?

Roth: I am a fifth-generation pork producer and it’s a very challenging and difficult time to be a hog farmer. All producers, big and small, are hurting and we need help to weather this crisis. Hog farmers are dedicated to producing safe, nutritious and affordable pork, but without immediate and significant congressional help, many producers are likely to go out of business, forever changing the agricultural and economic landscape in this country.

IFT: The export market continues to be strong. Does this have the potential for even more growth given the COVID-19 pandemic?

Roth: Exports are critical for U.S. hog farmers, especially now. We are pleased to see exports to China, for example, have increased relative to what was a down year in 2019, but this does not come close to offsetting the severe losses incurred due to the COVID crisis.

IFT: Are there new trading partners who are emerging? How important was the finalization of USMCA as well as some of the bilateral agreements signed with other countries?

Roth: NPPC supports numerous U.S. trade agreements with the UK and unfettered market access for U.S. pork in Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand,

Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Jamaica, South Africa — markets which are completely closed or only minimally open to U.S. pork exports. We continue to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure trade agreements allow for greater market opportunities for U.S. pork.

NPPC was pleased that USMCA went into effect on July 1, 2020, maintaining zero-duty market access to two of our largest export markets. Additionally, NPPC was very supportive of the U.S.-Japan trade deal which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, allowing U.S. pork producers to compete on a level playing field in historically our largest value export markets.

IFT: Other than the RELIEF for Producers Act, what are some other legislative priorities for NPPC?

Roth: While NPPC’s top priority is ensuring hog farmers receive the urgent help needed to weather this crisis, we are working on a number of other legislative issues, including efforts to protect U.S. agriculture from African swine fever (ASF) and other foreign animal diseases. Specifically, NPPC supports the robust fiscal year 2021 agriculture spending bill that includes critical funding to make sure animal pests and diseases don’t enter the country.

Similarly, the fiscal year 2021 Homeland Security funding bill includes $30 million for 200 agriculture inspectors as part of U.S. customs and border protection. Agriculture inspectors at our land, air and sea ports are our first line of defense to ensure ASF and other foreign animal diseases don’t enter the United States.

IFT: You’ve served as president during a challenging time for the industry. Can you reflect on how this has impacted you on a personal level?

Roth: This unprecedented crisis has affected every single U.S. hog farmer, including myself. I’m not immune to the challenges affecting all of us right now. We have hogs backed up on our farm and we’re doing everything we can to prevent euthanizing our animals. That goes against every farmer instinct.

It’s a very difficult time for our producers, families, communities and the nation. U.S. pork producers remain committed to providing affordable, nutritious and plentiful protein to America’s kitchens, but through no fault of our own, we are struggling. This crisis does not discriminate.

All producers are hurting, and we desperately need congressional help. Without swift congressional action in the next COVID aid package, thousands of hog farmers, including myself, are likely to go out of business, leading to consolidation and contraction of the U.S. pork industry.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.