Many in the U.S. swine industry want a reboot after the experiences of 2020, and Shana Beattie is leading that charge in Nebraska.
Beattie, of Sumner, recently was elected president of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association (NPPA). “Our hope is to be able to get back on the road and just really do what the association does, and that is to promote the product, get out and represent the producers nationally and on the state level,” she says. “We don’t know what we’re up against, but we have to be ready for what’s to come and we have to push toward getting things back to normal — at least the new normal of what it may be.”
Stressing checkoff value
Seeing the value in the Pork Checkoff — a USDA commodity program — is something that Beattie takes seriously. “We really want to focus on our stakeholders as the invested members of the Pork Checkoff,” she says. “As a producer and a longtime stakeholder, I recognize the value that the checkoff brings to our farmers. I have a passion for pork production, and the Beattie family has for generations been a part of this industry.”
Beattie Family Farms is a fifth-generation diversified operation of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The family owns and operates a wean-to finish swine operation, and they are partners on a 10,000-head sow farm, as well as a commercial cow-calf operation.
Shana and her husband, Bart, have four children — Mekenzie, Mattison, Bart Jr. and Preston — who are all getting involved in the operation and make up the sixth generation of Beatties on the farm.
COVID-19 and the checkoff
Much has been said of how COVID-19 affected pork trade and markets, both domestically and internationally, but Beattie says checkoff dollars were still at work through the state and national pork organizations.
“We were able to stay home and continue to work because while we know that COVID interrupted many of the things around the nation as far as how we do business, we were still on the farm every day, caring for our livestock, and that was never interrupted," she says. "While taking care of our livestock, to produce high-quality pork, the association was working on our behalf on key issues that COVID affected."
As president of NPPA, Beattie welcomes the opportunity to share the value of the checkoff with producers. “I hope to have the opportunity to share with people that this investment has value all the time, whether we’re going through a pandemic, market interruptions or we are experiencing comfortable numbers and profits,” she says.
“We are farmers and producers at heart and our place is on the farm. We rely on our association’s staff, leaders and national organizations to be present at the table and have a voice in Lincoln at the statehouse and in Washington, D.C. Our organization also promotes our product in a variety of ways here in Nebraska, throughout the country and around the world.”
Always looking for ways to get the most for the producers’ checkoff dollars, Beattie says a movement is underway to revamp the application process at the state level for research projects to be funded. “We want to make sure that those dollars are used in a way that is valuable to our producers in the state of Nebraska,” she says.
Some areas that Beattie personally would like to see researched include new product promotion on the fresh pork retail side. “At the national level, our association is always looking to develop new products that will appeal to consumers, chefs and dieticians,” she explains.
“Certainly, COVID has changed how we market our fresh pork sales with limited in-person restaurant dining and more consumers eating at home, not to mention the disruptions in the hospitality and tourism sector,” she says. “This gives pork producers a real opportunity to look at how we are promoting our product and to get every pound of pork in the mouths of our customers. So rather than an obstacle of not having certain markets at the level we have had in the past, perhaps this is a chance to explore new products that fit consumer needs in 2021.”
COVID-19 brought its own share of industry disruptions with plant shutdowns and slowdowns, but Beattie says producers and the industry cannot lose sight of the debilitation that a break of a foreign animal disease such as African swine fever would have.
“It’s very disturbing and it’s very scary, so we really need to have a plan,” she notes. At the very basic level, Beattie says those plans need to start with a stringent biosecurity plan on every farm. “We don’t want to be scared; however, we have to be prepared as producers. We need to get foreign animal preparedness information out to our farmers and make them understand how important it is to be ready, should an event such as ASF occur.”
High on Beattie’s presidential to-do list is to make sure that producers are fully aware and understand the gravity of the situation. She points to industry roundtables and mock on-farm exercises as ways Nebraska has been preparing for a foreign animal disease outbreak.
“We will continue to prepare,” she says, “because we learn something new every day … and that is what it’s all about. Our preparations will make us better producers.”
Learn more about NPPA and Beattie at nepork.org.