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Kansas Ag Summit: Pork sector rolls out sustainability strategy

Courtesy of Kansas State University Research and Extension Hogs in pen
SUSTAINABILITY: The National Pork Board has a new grassroots-developed sustainability strategy that will help producers share their story with end users through measurable goals and third-party verifiable data.
National Pork Board’s grassroots efforts will share pork’s sustainability story with customers.

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 organization’s grassroots, producer-led sustainability strategy July 6 on a webinar call with stakeholders in the Kansas pork sector. This webinar was part of a series of virtual breakout sessions held prior to the in-person Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth, which is set for Aug. 18 in Manhattan, Kan.

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

Why sustainability?

It’s frustrating to have to define “sustainability,” because each part of the pork chain looks at the word through its own lens. For example, producers must have strategies that make money, save money, or save time to be sustainable. “If something is to be sustainable, it has to be economically profitable,” Kaysen says. “Or, it gives the farmer an opportunity to create and capture opportunities beyond the farm gate relative to the data they are currently collecting, or potentially will be collecting in the future.”

But pork producers must also understand their customers — the companies that are buying their live hogs, or that are processing pork products: They have sustainability goals, too, Kaysen says. From Walmart to Amazon and corporations in between, these companies are pledging to their customers that they will meet sustainability goals — and they need verified data from pork farmers to help them do that.

“Sustainability isn’t just something that is necessary the main story of your production system, but something you build into your production story,” Kaysen reminds producers. “A lot of us have been doing stewardship or sustainability for multiple generations on our farms. It’s not new to us. It builds into our story we have.” In speaking with a nonfarm 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 backbone values for pork farmers. But the National Pork Board has built upon them with modern and refined practices, he says. Pork producers as an industry are seeking to maintain trust from its public consumers, who want something good for them, their family and the planet, and can feel justified in their purchasing decisions.

The weak flank the National Pork Board had was in the proof points, Kaysen says. The modern-day marketplace demands more and that’s part of NPB’s offense strategy, Kaysen says. “The modern place says I trust you, but verify,” he says.

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

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

“This systems approach to sustainability still works. But now we need to start taking credit for the things we’ve done,” Kaysen says. The University of Arkansas Life Cycle Assessment Study shows that from 1960 to 2015, per pound of pork produced, pork producers are using 75% less land, 25% less water and 7% less energy, and are producing 8% fewer carbon emissions.

Goal-setting

The National Pork Board took a page from the dairy industry in setting its sustainability goals. It started by assessing what the key market and societal value drivers were not just in the U.S., but around the globe. Then, the NPB looked at how those match with producers in the real world. As the NPB set goals, it prioritized those social and environmental issues, and then set various levels of goals for the industry.

Kaysen emphasizes these were producer-led discussions. But in the end, the industry has to have goals to show the downstream industry that pork producers are working toward continued progress, and the industry is measuring that progress with metrics. The data that can be shared show that company and its customers continuous improvement.

Kaysen says soon farmers and other stakeholders in the pork industry can head to porkcares.org, and find the first-ever published U.S. Pork Industry Sustainability Report. The goals and metrics are there for each of the six We Care Ethical Principles.

Verified reporting

Why is the National Pork Board doing this when there are several other goals set for other brands? Well, this is for the overall national pork producer, not just one company or one brand, he says.

Using these goals and metrics, the NPB started a pilot project of On-Farm Sustainability Reports, and is now expanding those to the national level. These On-Farm Sustainability Reports capture a snapshot of on-farm data from fields or pig barns, and compile it in one report that helps the producer tell their sustainability story. They even come with charts and graphics that can be shared with neighbors, county commissioners and the general public, turning science into soundbites that can build consumer trust, Kaysen says.

These third-party verified reports can also be compiled into broader state and national reports, further telling pork’s sustainability story to industry stakeholders and lawmakers. In the first six months of this year, 250 farms have started 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 at porkcheckoff.org, which is funded by their Pork Checkoff dollars.

It may be a small start in the grand scale, Kaysen says, but large food companies and their boards of directors are demanding this type of verified and validated farm data.

The NPB has many other tools to help pork producers work toward their animal well-being and environmental goals. It has introduced a greenhouse gas reduction goal for the industry that takes a common-sense approach, Kaysen says, pledging to reduce emissions from a 2015 baseline by 40% by 2030. It has also introduced a Carbon Footprint Calculator as well for producers.

To see the full breakout session, visit agriculture.ks.gov/ag-summit-2022. There you can also sign up 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 pork sector:

  • Bringing home the bacon. Kansas raises about 2.7% of the U.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 more than 600 million pounds of pork for consumers to enjoy.
  • Economic “tail.” Kansas pork farms are part of a circular economy in the state. They consume more than 30 million bushels of grain, primarily Kansas-grown sorghum and corn. At January 2019 prices, the state’s pork sector spent more than $90 million on feed annually. The pork sector feeds more than $64 million in soybean products as well each year. 
  • Job builders. KDA’s IMPLAN (impact analysis for planning) economic model estimates the direct impact of the state’s pork sector is $529.5 million in output and 2,722 jobs. When you include indirect and induced effects, Kansas pigs bring $81.6 million to the Kansas economy and are creating 4,505 jobs. That’s something to squeal about!

 

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