It is a time of change and optimism for the Ohio Pork Congress as Bryan Humphreys, the new Executive Vice President of the Ohio Pork Council (OPC), has taken over for the recently retired Dick Isler. The event highlighted numerous success stories over the past year and outlined many of the challenges ahead.
A new event added to this year’s Pork Congress was the State of the Pork Industry Address. This luncheon created a unique opportunity to hear from two of the newest executives in the pork industry in both state and national roles. Humphreys was joined by the freshly appointed CEO of the National Pork Board (NPB), Chris Hodges, to discuss the current position of their organizations and the future of the industry as a whole.
“Markets could be higher and margins could be wider, but I’m pleased to say that the fundamentals of the Ohio pork industry are strong and I am incredibly excited about the future,” Humphreys said. “A third of our product gets exported overseas, which gives us great opportunities. We are seeing an expanding middle class in Asia and in China that continues to grow and the first thing that these folks reach for when they hit financial stability is not Nike shoes or Under Armour sweatshirts, it is access to meat.”
On the domestic front, Humphreys emphasized that Ohio is in an ideal location for growth, as 50% of the U.S. population is within a 500-mile radius of Columbus.
Nationally, the pork industry has built a new strategic plan for the next five years. As Chris Hodges enters his new position as NPB’s CEO, that plan will be his road map for success in the future.
“The three goals that we have with this new plan are to build consumer trust, drive sustainable production and grow consumer demand,” Hodges said. “That growth will come with exporting pork to some new markets in Latin America, East Asia and even Africa and I am very excited about those opportunities.”
In addition, Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council highlighted the importance of trade and exports to the pork industry.
“From a long term standpoint, I am very positive. We are going to have to feed more people who want to eat more meat. We are going to have ups and downs but I am very optimistic about the future overall. On the other hand, we continue to have a lot of challenges,” Dierks said. “Trade has been very critical to the pork industry. We exported more than we imported for the first time this year. A quarter of U.S. pork went overseas which meant over $6 billion of value to the industry. That is also good for the U.S. consumer because we produce more pork and make the prices more affordable to them.”
At the forefront of export opportunities for pork are 12 countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“Many of those countries have a heritage of preferring to eat pork,” Dierks said. “If we get market access, we could see long-term benefits like increasing exports to 25% above where we are now.”
The TPP has tremendous potential but may depend on the passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
“Before we can see these trade deals negotiated, we need TPA so Congress has the ability to say to the President, ‘Bring us a trade deal and we will vote it up or down.’ If we don’t have TPA we probably won’t have TPP,” he said.
The increasing importance of an online presence for the pork industry was also part of the discussion, as OPC has focused a lot of time, effort and resources toward serving as a resource for information regarding food and how it is raised. There are various OPC online resources to educate consumers about the industry and the best way to prepare pork dishes. OPC’s online efforts include an interactive website, an expanding social media presence and informational videos.
In a decidedly lower tech, but still vitally important effort, the Operation Main Street program was also highlighted. Through the program, 80 Ohio pork farmers and allied industry representatives have delivered more than 700 speeches in the past 10 years. In addition,10 presenters across the state to enter Family and Consumer Science classrooms and teach the classes for the day. To date, these presenters have spoken to more than 2,400 classes and a total of over 46,000 students.
The OPC also hosted the Taste of Elegance and Rack of Pork White Glove Reception in conjuction with the Pork Congress to provide a unique opportunity for Ohio farmers to mingle with chefs who have prepared pork in unique and exciting ways, while speaking with legislators about key issues that impact the pork industry.
This year, three chefs each prepared three-course tastings. Chef Melissa Meola, Marcella’s Short North in Columbus, took top honors at the Ohio Pork Council’s Taste of Elegance at the Doubletree in Columbus, earning the coveted Chef Par Excellence award.
Chef Drew Patterson, Culinary Director at the Wexner Medical Center, was named Superior Chef and People’s Choice award winner, while Matt Rapposelli, Executive Chef of Hocking Hills Dining Lodge was selected Premier Chef.
In keeping with the tradition, A Taste of Elegance’s evening began with guests receiving white gloves and a pork chop. After sampling assorted cheeses and appetizers, guests were invited to taste samples from each of the chef’s three-course menus. Soy desserts were supplied by the Ohio Soybean Council and a selection of Ohio wines were offered by Ohio Grape Industries. J.H. Routh Packing Company in Sandusky provided pork for the event.
At the 2014 Ohio Pork Congress, Dale Minyo of the Ohio Ag Net visited with National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks about the challenges in the pork industry.