A conversation with…
Bryan Humphreys, who will be starting his new role as Executive Vice President of the Ohio Pork Council on Oct. 1
OCJ: First, could you share a little about your background growing up in Iowa on a farm and how you hope that will prepare you for your new role in Ohio?
Bryan: Growing up on a farm in Southeast Iowa was not without its challenges. When I left for college we were farming 900 acres and 4,000 pig spaces, while attempting to recover from a PRRS outbreak and record low hog prices. I witnessed firsthand the challenges those of us in agriculture can face. Yet, I recognize that it is these challenges that force us to adapt and make continuous improvements that allow for better days. As I start a new chapter at Ohio Pork Council my understanding of agriculture and how challenges affect farms is from real world experience.
OCJ: What are your thoughts about moving to Ohio?
Bryan: Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to travel around the country, and during each of my trips to Ohio I have always been impressed by the people I have met. While the people are fantastic, the strength of the agricultural community and the unique history of the state added to the allure of Ohio. When the position with the Ohio Pork Council, became available I jumped at the opportunity and haven’t looked back. Ohio is a great state with a lot to offer and I am very much looking forward to being a part of it.
OCJ: What professional experience do you have that has prepared you for your work at the Ohio Pork Council?
Bryan: After college, I worked on political campaigns around the country organizing volunteers and directing political efforts in a time sensitive and high-pressure arena. While very different from anything I had done growing up on the farm, it taught me the importance of effective communications and the value of grassroots participation. After the 2008 presidential campaign, I went to work with the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). During my time with NPPC I had the opportunity to work with pork producers from around the country on federal issues. Additionally, I worked with our state legislative efforts in small production states like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Both efforts included challenging the many misconceptions people have about pork production, and even pork products, in the legislative and regulatory process. These experiences all culminate with my new position in Ohio, where effective communications and grassroots involvement is key to our success with both consumers and legislators.
OCJ: What is your assessment of the current state of Ohio’s hog industry in terms of its strengths and areas for potential improvement?
Bryan: As other large production states face a variety of challenges, Ohio is a state that respects agriculture and its rural heritage. With a significant portion of the U.S. population living within a few hundred miles of Ohio, we are in a great position to provide a high quality and affordable product to many Americans.
Though as we continue to grow there are certain issues that need to be addressed like a qualified work force and access to harvest facilities. Many of us are aware of how rewarding a career in the pork industry can be, yet competition for qualified workers is fierce. We need to find a way to attract more people to this great industry. In addition to qualified workers, reasonably close access to harvest facilities continues to be a challenge for much of the state. These are daunting challenges, but as the industry continues to grow and change, we will inevitably have to address them.
OCJ: What are some challenges for the future of Ohio’s hog farms and what can OPC do to help address them?
Bryan: As with all of agriculture, the Ohio hog industry is not without its challenges. We see it as the responsibility of OPC to coordinate efforts on all fronts that affect pork producers. The most prominent issues facing us now are the potential changes to environmental policies, on a state and federal level. From the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule to the state legislation addressing manure application, there is uncertainty for producers on what will happen in the future. From a policy perspective, OPC will continue to work with all agricultural groups and concerned parties to move toward a solution. We also recognize that part of these issues arise from a disconnect between the general population and agriculture. Over the next several years OPC will expand our consumer education efforts to bridge this gap.
Additionally, existing and emerging diseases continue to be a challenge for the industry. Earlier this year OPC created a PRRS/PEDV taskforce and provided research funding to OSU to work towards the control of these diseases. Understanding these, and future diseases, is key to the success of the hog industry and OPC will continue to lead the efforts.
OCJ: How do you plan to build upon the successes of Ohio’s hog producers in the coming years?
Bryan: Sometimes the best way to build upon success is simply to continue to remove, or prevent, obstacles that may hinder future success. With the leadership of the board and a fantastic staff we will continue to do what we can to remove the obstacles that arise. This includes everything from funding additional research, expanding consumer education efforts, to working policy initiatives. All of our efforts will focus on helping Ohio’s hog producers to continue to be successful.
OCJ: Of course, Dick Isler has served Ohio’s pork industry for many years and will be retiring early next year. What do you hope to learn from his extensive experience from now until his retirement?
Bryan: Everything I can. Dick has been a tremendous resource for the industry and for all of agriculture, and that experience can’t be replicated overnight. During our transition period I look forward to gaining as much insight and background information as possible. This includes understanding how the industry has grown through the years and how the organization has faced different challenges.
OCJ: What are some of your initial goals as the new Ohio Pork Council Executive Vice President?
Bryan: When starting a new position, initial goals are always subject to change as issues arise. Outside of the legislative and regulatory issues, that will continue to be a challenge, there are a couple of areas where I would like to begin. First, we have seen the impact our detractors can have in areas like Cleveland, with Meatless Mondays. Moving forward we are going to expand conversations with local leaders and decision makers. These individuals have the potential to impact the industry, and all of agriculture, and we need to help them understand who we are and what we do.
Additionally, as our mission statement says, our goal is to “serve and benefit all Ohio pork producers.” Recognizing the very diverse makeup of pork farmers, I look forward to expanding our efforts to bring producers of all sizes and backgrounds to the table.
OCJ: Ohio has done some innovative things with regard to animal husbandry oversight. How will you build upon this while maintaining a balance between consumer concerns and producer viability?
Bryan: The Ohio Pork Council led the nation in regards to animal husbandry oversight, an effort that was replicated in many states across the country. This innovation and willingness to do something new is one of the reasons I wanted to work with OPC. The balance between consumer concerns and producer viability is a significant concern and will be for many years to come. Outside of certain activist groups, many of the consumers concerns originate from a desire to better understand where their food comes from. We look forward to expanding our consumer education programs, to answer the tough questions and put to rest some of their concerns.
OCJ: What is your favorite pork dish and why?
Bryan: My favorite pork dish is a braised apple-stuffed pork loin. When cooked properly, it is a perfect combination of sweet and salty.