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Kansas Ag Summit: the pork sector deploys a sustainable development strategy

It’s a frustrating truth in life. Everyone loves bacon. But few people fully understand or appreciate what it takes to bring that bacon to the table, let alone the sustainability of modern pork production. The National Pork Board is working to help producers change that.

Brett Kaysen, Senior Vice President of Producer and State Engagement at the National Pork Board, shared the producer-led organization’s sustainability strategy July 6 during a webinar with industry stakeholders Kansas pig. This webinar was part of a series of virtual breakout sessions held prior to the Kansas Governor’s in-person Farm Growth Summit, to be held August 18 in Manhattan, Kan.

Kaysen says that when it comes to sustainability, producers can be either on the defensive or on the attack — and this Pork Checkoff strategy does both.

Why sustainability?

It’s frustrating to have to define “sustainability” because every link in the pork industry looks at the word through their own lens. For example, growers must have strategies that make money, save money, or save time to be sustainable. “If something is going to be sustainable, it has to be economically profitable,” says Kaysen. “Or, it gives the farmer the ability to create and capture opportunities beyond the farm with respect to the data they are currently collecting or potentially will collect in the future.”

But pork producers also need to understand their customers — the companies that buy their pigs live or process pork products: they also have sustainability goals, Kaysen says. From Walmart to Amazon to midstream companies, these companies are promising their customers they’ll meet sustainability goals — and they need verified data from pig farmers to help them do that.

“Sustainability is not just something that is needed in the main story of your production system, but something that you build into your production story,” Kaysen reminds producers. “Many of us have been doing stewardship or sustainability for generations on our farms. It’s not new to us. It fits into our history that we have. Addressing a non-agricultural audience, he reminds listeners that efficiency and productivity go hand in hand with sustainability.

Strategy

Since 2008, the We Care ethical principles have been the core values ​​of pig farmers. But the National Pork Board has built on them with modern and refined practices, he says. Pork producers as an industry seek to maintain the trust of their public consumers, who want something good for themselves, their families, and the planet, and can feel justified in their purchasing decisions.

The National Pork Board’s weak flank was in the evidence points, Kaysen says. The modern market demands more and that’s part of NPB’s offensive strategy, Kaysen says. “The modern place says I trust you, but check,” he says.

The We Care Ethical Principles were developed by pig farmers and have been implemented by the National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council and state organizations. The six principles covered:

  1. Food safety
  2. Animal wellbeing
  3. Employee education and safety
  4. Public health
  5. Environment
  6. Neighboring community

“This systems approach to sustainability still works. But now we have to start taking credit for what we’ve done,” says Kaysen. University of Arkansas Life Cycle Assessment study shows that from 1960 to 2015, per pound of pork produced, pork producers use 75% less land, 25% less water and 7% less energy, and produce 8% less carbon emissions.

Goal setting

The National Pork Board looked to the dairy industry for inspiration when setting its sustainability goals. He started by assessing what were the key drivers of market and company value, not just in the United States, but around the world. Next, the NPB looked at how these correspond to producers in the real world. As the NPB set goals, it prioritized these social and environmental issues and then set various levels of goals for the industry.

Kaysen points out that these were producer-led discussions. But at the end of the day, the industry needs to have goals to show the downstream industry that pork producers are working towards continuous progress, and the industry measures that progress with metrics. Data that can be shared shows that the company and its customers are continually improving.

Kaysen says that soon farmers and others in the hog industry will be able to head to porccares.org, and learn about the first-ever U.S. hog industry sustainability report. Goals and measures are there for each of the six We Care ethical principles.

Verified Reports

Why is the National Pork Board doing this when several other targets are set for other brands? Well, it’s for the entire national pork producer, not just one company or brand, he says.

Using these goals and metrics, NPB launched a pilot of on-farm sustainability reporting and is now expanding it nationally. These on-farm sustainability reports capture a snapshot of on-farm data from fields or barns and compile it into a report that helps the producer tell their sustainability story. They even come with charts and graphs that can be shared with neighbors, county commissioners and the general public, turning science into sound bites that can build consumer confidence, Kaysen says.

These third-party verified reports can also be compiled into broader state and national reports, further telling the story of pork sustainability to industry stakeholders and legislators. In the first six months of this year, 250 farms began participating in this voluntary process, covering 250,000 acres and representing more than 2.4 million head of pigs, Kaysen says. Producers can request their own report from porkcheckoff.orgwhich is funded by their Pork Checkoff dollars.

It may be a small, large-scale start, Kaysen says, but big food companies and their boards demand this kind of verified and validated agricultural data.

The NPB has many other tools to help pork producers achieve their animal welfare and environmental goals. He introduced a greenhouse gas reduction target for industry that takes a common-sense approach, Kaysen says, pledging to cut emissions from 2015 by 40% by 2030. He also introduces a carbon footprint calculator also for producers.

To see the full breakout session, go to agriculture.ks.gov/ag-summit-2022. There you can also register for future pre-summit sector sessions and the in-person summit itself.

Kansas Pork Statistics

The Kansas Department of Agriculture shared the following statistics about the state’s hog industry:

  • Bring home the bacon. Kansas raises about 2.7% of America’s hog inventory on about 1,000 hog farms in the state. In 2019, Kansas farms sold 3.7 million live hogs, with a gross market value of around $494.7 million. That’s over 600 million pounds of pork for consumer enjoyment.
  • « Economy tail.” Kansas pig farms are part of a circular economy in the state. They consume more than 30 million bushels of grain, mostly Kansas-grown sorghum and corn. At January 2019 prices, the state’s hog industry spent more than $90 million on animal feed each year. The pork sector also sources more than $64 million in soy products each year.
  • Job builders. KDA’s IMPLAN (Impact Analysis for Planning) economic model estimates the direct impact of the state’s hog sector to be $529.5 million in production and 2,722 jobs. When you include indirect and induced effects, Kansas pigs bring $81.6 million to the Kansas economy and create 4,505 jobs. It’s enough to cringe!
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