National Pork Board CEO Bill Even

National Pork Board CEO Bill Even (left) works on his crop and livestock farm near Humboldt, S.D., with his brother Tim. Even lives in Adel, Iowa.

Ag Org Behind the Scene

Editor’s note: The following is part of a series of commodity group leader profiles.

WEST DES MOINES — Bill Even may not know all his bosses, but he knows what they expect.

“I look at my job as working for all the pork producers in the U.S.,” he says. “There are about 60,000, ranging from 4H projects to Smithfield. I work for them all.”

For the past three years, the South Dakota native has served as chief executive officer for the National Pork Board. He came to the pork board from DuPont Pioneer and served as South Dakota’s ag secretary from 2007 to 2010.

Even says the diversity of the pork industry is found in the board of directors — a group tasked with setting the course for the future while also focusing on the present.

While producers understand how the checkoff benefits the industry, they are also asking how it benefits them personally, he says.

“We are seeing the emergence of ‘me’ — how does it benefit me and my farm?” he says. “They see what we do with the checkoff, but they want to know how it impacts them. They are looking at their return on investment.”

Even says the pork board needs to do a better job of getting out to meet producers.

“I’m challenging our organization to improve its ground game by getting boots on the ground,” he says. “We need to do a better job with engagement. This needs to start with me and all the way down the line.”

The board works with state organizations to help with that process, Even says, while recognizing the needs of states like Iowa may differ from states such as Texas.

Prioritizing how checkoff dollars are spent is an evolving process. Even says the board began a strategic planning effort in January.

“We talked to over 1,000 stakeholders, and we heard it loud and clear that the days of the five-year plans are gone,” he says. “The industry changes too rapidly for that.”

An example of this is an outbreak of African swine fever last August in China, a nation that houses half of the world’s hog population.

“Within in two weeks, we pulled together agencies such as NPPC, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians and others, and we have been meeting bi-weekly since then to coordinate our industry’s preparedness and response,” Even says. “It’s an example of rapidly recognizing the game has changed and being able to assign resources and staff to the problem.”

The pork board is known for several long-running programs, including Pork Quality Assurance and Transport Quality Assurance. Even says the organization’s focus is changing to completing projects, rather than establishing new programs.

“The board is looking at a project model that uses a task force,” he says. “Projects have a beginning and an end. They have a limited timeframe and scope and budget. Once the project is done, we move on to the next one.”

He also expects to see continued segmentation.

“We can use the grocery and beer industries as an example,” he says. “You have stores like Whole Foods who offer food with attributes that allows them to sell at a higher price. You have Walmart who offers quality food at an affordable price for those under a tighter budget.

“The explosion of the craft beer industry is another example. You have beers like Budweiser, Miller and Coors, but we have micro-breweries for those who are willing to pay a higher price for certain beers. We see a lot of similarities in the meat industry.”

The board will continue to evolve with its producers.

“I think one thing that sets the checkoff apart is our high level of understanding and the constant presence of who we work for,” he says. “We are changing along with our producers. If an organization is not moving at the same pace as the industry, you’re going to be in trouble.”

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