Brandi Buzzard, Interview with Everett Forkner, former president of the National Pork Board and owner of TruLine Genetics and Forkner Farms, August 21st 2012
As a young professional in the swine industry, I feel it’s imperative to network and interact with the leadership of our guiding organizations. Who better to share his wisdom and foresight than Everett Forkner, former president of the National Pork Board and owner of TruLine Genetics and Forkner Farms, Inc? Mr. Forkner was kind enough to share his thoughts with me about the future of the swine industry. I hope you enjoy his commentary!
Q: For you as a producer, how has the drought and increased commodity prices caused you to alter your management strategies? What are you doing during these difficult times?
EF: We all have to deal with the uncertainty of the drought. I don’t think we have any silver bullets to offer or latch on to but one of the most important things we can do is continue to pay attention to detail with management, feeder adjustment; all of those things that we know we need to do. We need to do them better or to the best of our ability and we don’t want to overlook any of the daily efficiencies that we all know are important. I think another thing that we are looking at is as we are harvesting corn, we are looking at the nutritional content and value of the corn. Since our corn is in drought stress, one of the things we’ve seen is crude protein levels jumping up. We’re currently conducting an analysis on lysine content but our drought corn tested at 10.8% protein which is well above 8.4-8.6% level that we normally figure. Once we get a lysine content, we think we can do some adjustments in our diets to reduce soybean meal inclusion rates. That’s one of the things we can look at – we always need to be looking at early marketing of any kind of pigs that show inefficiencies such as really small pigs that won’t perform for us.
Q. What are your thoughts on the $170 million meat purchasing program that the federal government is enacting?
EF: I believe that this will obviously help to some degree. Anytime that you can increase the demand for your product, normally long term that has a positive effect; particularly if we can continue to maintain or even grow our exports, especially to China, things will be positive. Moving product is always a good thing.
Q. What do you think the future holds for pork producers in terms of animal welfare and production practices?
EF: I have a huge concern about us maintaining our competitive advantage in the world. If we are forced either by mandate or by pressure into some of the directions we’re going, my concern is that the sow-housing issue is only the first of what will be many. If we look at the European example, which I think is the best example of what effects regulation could have on the pork industry, we know that 10 years ago when the same pressure was put on them [EU] to end gestation stall housing and move into group housing, with January 1, 2013, being the deadline, we were in London for three days we asked them what their concern was since the regulations had been brought through from their government and they had 40% of their industry disappeared. They presumed that January 1, they’ll lose another 10% – so in 10 years they will have lost 50% of their swine industry in the United Kingdom. I think if we look at that example as the ultimate impact that regulation could have, it’s not a very rosy picture. I think that HSUS would have a better impact if they looked at the 1.5 billion people in the world who are starving and should be more concerned about how to stop that form of human abuse. Sows have been proven by science and veterinarians to be well taken care of in the situations that they are in and it’s been an opportunity for us to mass produce pork with individual care. I’ve never heard anybody explain it exactly that way, but it’s what we’re doing. We are mass producing for efficiency with individual care of the most prized possession we have, which is the pregnant sow. She gets individual protection, she gets individual care, she gets individual feed and given the opportunity with free stall housing, 80% of sows will spend 80% of their time in stalls because that’s where they feel safe and secure. I think it’s really up in the air – we have a lot of people overly concerned right now when in actuality the mandates handed down from our food industry dictate that we still have 5-6 years before it can be enforced because the supply chain cannot be differentiated between or guaranteed.
At this point, Mr. Forkner and I started a tangent about world hunger and the gap between consumer perception of food production and the actual gate to plate process.
EF: When you’re a pork producer and continually doing what we know is proven to be the most efficient and cost effective system in the world, you begin to take it personally when someone continues to tell you that you’re a bad actor, that you don’t care and that you are someone who should be looked down upon. My biggest concern is that their (animal rights organizations) agenda really isn’t animal welfare. Anything they can do to drive up the price of meat will limit the amount of meat the consumer can afford to buy. One of the best presentations I’ve seen was by the CEO of Elanco [Jeff Simmons] who brought the issue of world hunger into the balance of animal agriculture today. He made this statement, which is so true, “The best thing that we can do for nations who don’t have adequate nutrition is to provide them with meat, milk and eggs,” because that’s the quickest way to offer a balanced diet, quickly. I’d like to broaden the picture of debacle that we’re in over sow housing. It’s something way beyond that – how are we going to feed 7-9 billion people over the next 40 years? Over the past 50 years, we’ve doubled the amount of pork that one sow can produce. Think about how many thousands of bushels less corn it takes to produce pork today. Not only have we increased the efficiency of the sow we’ve also increased the livability of the pig and improved the efficiency of the pork industry as a whole. It’s a pretty daunting historical past, we truly are producing the world’s greenest pigs. My concern is that I see a lot of those efficient strides have been made already. We in the pork industry are committed to continuous change and improvement; however, we must realize that if these [animal welfare changes] really have value to consumer, then the cost is going to have to be shared.
I personally enjoyed hearing Mr. Forkner’s thoughts on the pertinent issues and current hot topics in the pork industry. He opened my eyes to some different viewpoints that I hadn’t considered previously and I sure hope that he continues to share his point of view with other swine and agriculture industry stakeholders!
Learn more about Brandi:
Brandi Buzzard is a native of Colony, KS where she grew up rodeoing and showing livestock with her family. A passionate agriculture advocate, she authors a blog about current industry issues and contributes to the NCBA YPC and Food For Thought blogs. She attended Kansas State University where she earned her B.S. in Animal Sciences and Agriculture Economics and is continuing her education there while pursuing a M.S. in Animal Behavior, Well-Being and Health.
Brandi is active in a variety of agriculture organizations including the Kansas Livestock Association, the National Pork Board’s Operation Main Street, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Young Producer’s Council and Food For Thought. Outside of her professional interests she enjoys spending time with her husband and family, rodeoing, working on the farm and globetrotting.
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