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8 questions with Illinois Pork Producers

Jennifer Tirey, IPPA executive director, offers a look at how the Illinois hog business is changing and what the Illinois Pork Expo will offer, coming up Jan. 30.

Holly Spangler

January 18, 2024

5 Min Read
A close-up of a pig's face with black markings
PORK BUSINESS: Illinois pork producers will gather in Springfield in a couple of weeks for the annual Illinois Pork Expo, which features business meetings, a trade show, speakers and more. Holly Spangler

What’s happening these days for Illinois pork farmers? No. 1 on the list is the upcoming Illinois Pork Expo, Jan. 30 in Springfield, Ill. Register online here. But Proposition 12, labor concerns and consumer markets are right behind it.

Jennifer Tirey, Illinois Pork Producers Association executive director, has a lot of good reasons for folks to come to this year’s expo.

“We’re a small but mighty group, and we need their voice. Lawmakers take my calls, but they really want to hear from actual producers,” Tirey says. “I can’t stress enough how showing up for your industry will help everyone in the long run.”

Here’s what else Tirey has to say about the industry and the expo in 2024:

You’ve been with IPPA for nine years now. How has the pork conversation changed? When I first started, the conversation was big around becoming a contract grower and building a barn. Now, barn construction is few and far between. If anyone’s doing anything, it’s remodeling, making improvements to existing buildings.

How about labor? The conversation on labor is about how to utilize TN visas. We’re helping our producers work with companies that can help them source workers from other countries. We developed an international worker guide that has so many resources — literally a one-stop shop of information for hiring international workers and acclimating them into your rural community. We interviewed all kinds of producers from every part of the state about what worked, what didn’t work, what we needed to do. And we keep adding to it because we find new things that keep changing.

Related:The Prairie Profile: Chad Leman

And we sure didn’t have Prop 12 nine years ago. Yes, that regulatory unknown is a dynamic that’s new to us — having that mandate from a state thousands of miles away trying to, you know, to dictate how my farmers raise their animals.

When I first started, we were trying to stay ahead of issues with the Livestock Management Facilities Act. But we’ve been able to be proactive and educate some of the legislators that were apprehensive about our industry. They know that the LMFA works, and that any industry is going have a bad actor but that’s not the majority. Our industry really wants to do what’s right and raise a healthy, safe product for consumers and make a living at it.

How have your lobbying efforts changed? We have a lot of Democrat representation in our state, and pork producers are much more part of the conversation at the state and the federal level. At the federal level, Dick Durbin is on the Senate Ag Committee, and two freshmen, Democrat congressional members Eric Sorenson and Nikki Budzinski are, on the Ag Committee. So we’ve been more proactive to reach out to those Democrats.

We’ve taken Eric Sorenson on a hog farm tour. We sat in Nikki Budzinski’s office in D.C., and one of my producers explained to her how dangerous it is for her employees to try to navigate 400- or 500-pound animals in a pen as opposed to crates. Just giving that perspective to Congresswoman Budzinski made her question Prop 12.

Looking at your board, it appears to skew younger and more female than the traditional commodity board. You’re absolutely right. Rachel Schulte is on now, and Emmalee Haege and Katie Brown, Jill Brokaw, Kaylee Hillinger and Beth Spiekermeier. Cheryl Walsh is our upcoming president; we haven’t had a female president for a couple years, since Pam Janssen.

We are blessed to have such a wide dynamic of individuals because they bring in different levels of expertise. Some are raising younger families, so they’re a mom buying groceries for their young families, so they have insights that maybe others don’t have. And that’s a big part of what we do now.

What does the rest of the board look like? We have six district directors and up to 12 at-large directors. When I started, there were more independent producers at our table, and now we have more contract growers. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a different dynamic. We have a bylaw change that’s coming up to allow an allied representative to serve in our officer rotation. We still want a majority of producers but will allow one allied in the rotation.

Tell us what you’re looking forward to at this year’s Illinois Pork Expo? We’ll have updates from Dr. David Newman from National Pork Board, giving us a market update on retail and food service and how NPB has been able to increase some pork consumption. That’s a big deal in Illinois with so many urban grocery chains — we are in a unique position where a lot of our checkoff dollars go toward retail campaigns across the state.

Cody McKinley from National Pork Producers Council is going to share their national strategies and tactics around ballot initiatives. They’re trying to be more proactive and try to eliminate the need for ballot initiatives. We want to be less reactionary, especially with Prop 12 in full effect right now.

And Steve Myers, Partners for Production economist, will talk about how the market’s looking. Right now, everyone’s gonna be all ears on that.

And you can get your Certified Livestock Managers Training, too, right? Yes, we’re partnering with Illinois Extension to offer Certified Livestock Managers Training that morning, and we have a lot of folks that try to kill two birds with one stone — they’re already coming for the show, so they come early.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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