By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo
The challenges of change have wrought powerful progress for Ohio’s pork industry over the last couple of years and there was plenty to celebrate at last week’s Ohio Pork Congress held in Lima, a new location for the event.
“The response to our new location has been great. It is the first time we have been here in Lima. We have record attendance and a record number of exhibitors,” said Ryan McClure, president of the Ohio Pork Council. “The pork industry in the state of Ohio is very strong. We have grown substantially in the last few years.”
Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in Lima allowed for expanded tradeshow space and more room for educational seminars. Attendees learned about a wide array of topics including risks of foreign animal diseases, nutrition, employee management, and animal care.
“Ohio’s pork industry is full of great people who produce wholesome, high-quality pork for domestic and world markets,” McClure said. “We must move forward together to address mounting challenges. Pork Congress gives all of us the opportunity to come together and support the work of the industry.”
The long list of speakers at the event included Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board, who really emphasized the importance of on-farm, regional and national efforts to manage risks of foreign animal diseases, including African swine fever.
“You have to have pigs that are healthy to have a sustainable operation. African swine fever has been expanding around the world. It often causes pigs to get ill and die. There is no vaccine or treatment for it. In Asia they had a lot of hogs and they don’t have them anymore,” Even said. “We are trying to make sure we do not get that disease here in the U.S. I think it is really important that state veterinarians, pork producers and the USDA work together to map out what we need to do.”
The nation’s hog producers also need to continue the work of building strong demand domestically and internationally.
“During COVID-19 we had a lot of people cooking at home and they had a chance to try ground pork for the first time when they substituted it for something else they couldn’t find on the grocery shelf. We have seen ground pork sales go up and stay up,” Even said. “And bacon is not going away. It is the value lead. Bacon is the gateway drug for vegetarians. It is extremely popular with Americans. And U.S. pork exports have been on an upward trend for years since the mid-1990s. A lot of that comes from some of the free trade agreements we have in place. Currently we have pork as the world’s No. 1 most consumed protein and the United States is able to supply large volumes around the world. As we see other countries grow their economies we see continued demand for our product internationally.”
Even with robust demand, there are many misconceptions about the pork industry among consumers and fact-based information about hog production is as important as ever.
“We are in a very competitive market place now and there are a lot of different options for consumers to choose from. There are a lot of myths out there about how we raise pigs and if pork is healthy,” Even said. “The sustainability discussion is not going to go away. We have a really good story to tell as pork producers. We have been improving our operations for decades. We are less than one half of 1% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. We are on track to become carbon neutral and carbon negative. We want to make sure producers have their own, unbiased third party analysis of their farm they can show their banker, their packer, or their supply chain or whomever. We are providing that information for producers that they will own and control themselves.”
This effort is being undertaken in part through the National Pork Board’s “We Care” program. Gene Noem, National Pork Board president, was also at the Ohio Pork Congress. Noem talked about the importance of the We Care sustainability framework.
“Oftentimes when you talk to the farm community and you say, ‘sustainability,’ people almost get a pulled muscle in their eyes rolling them. But this is not that bad. It is a matter of telling our story. A friend of mine, Dallas Hockman, with the National Pork Producers Council, really helped develop the We Care framework 12 years ago. To use Dallas’s words, ‘farmers are really good at raising everything, except their voice.’ We want to have a way to tell people how they work in communities. What are they doing to do more with less? How do we make sure we raise safe food and treat our animals right? The We Care framework really helps us tell that story,” Noem said. “There is a lot of work being done to talk about sustainability. We are trying to provide a framework to help farmers tell these stories.”
Along with many other learning and networking opportunities, the Ohio Pork Congress is also a chance to recognize industry award winners presented by the Ohio Pork Council. Here are this year’s winners.
Pork Industry Excellence
The Pork Industry Excellence award was presented to Gary Stitzlein of Marion County.
Stitzlein got his start with hogs at a very young age on his home farm on the north side of Columbus where he eventually gained a reputation around the country for the quality of his purebred Landrace hogs. Urban sprawl surrounding the farm led to Stitzlein pursuing his passion for working with hogs full time at Ohio State, where he began managing the operations of the barn and helped with the livestock judging program, which included judging hog shows throughout the United States. After roughly a quarter century at Ohio State, he started a career at Kalmbach Feeds, Inc. as a production supervisor in 2000. He worked there for 18 years. For more on Stitzlein, see the Mid-February feature.
Pork Promoter of the Year
The Pork Promoter of the Year was presented to Jerry Happy of Auglaize County, who has been an active member of the Ohio Pork Council’s Board of Directors and has served as an associate director for the organization. He has played a large role in helping to execute events such as the Pork Chop Open and the 2021 Ohio State Fair, among countless others. Along with his efforts with the Ohio Pork Council, Happy also worked as a Regional Manager, Protein for AP.
The success of the pork stand at the 2021 Ohio State Fair can be credited to Happy’s knowledge and skill of grilling, smoking, and preparing the delicious pork products being sold. On top of his duty as the volunteer grill master, he went above and beyond to help promote pork via the Ohio Pork Council’s social media pages. Each morning Happy would utilize the bacon that he would be cooking to create a “message board.” These messages often included sayings such as, “Happy Friday,” “I heart bacon” or “O-H-I-O.” These inspirational and good spirited messages would then be posted to social media to promote the consumption and use of pork products in a fun-loving manner. While the messages were meant to be fun, the followers quickly took to them and began sharing, reacting, and even impatiently waiting for the next day’s message.
Happy has often be found helping to prepare and serve Ohio’s pork products at other Ohio Pork Council events, like Pork-a-palooza. His passion and knowledge of the industry radiates through conversation, which is part of what makes him such a well-known asset to Ohio’s pork industry.
Swine Manager of the Year
The Swine Manager of the Year award was presented to Kevin Isler of Union County. Isler received a degree in animal science from The Ohio State University, where he played an active role in the university’s agriculture department. While at OSU, Kevin was involved in the Saddle & Sirloin Club, a member of AGS Fraternity, and participated on the collegiate livestock judging team. His time in college, experience from growing up on a swine, cattle, and crop operation in Prospect, and his membership in the FFA and 4-H led him to a career at Kalmbach Feeds.
Throughout Isler’s nearly 24 years with Kalmbach, he has shown outstanding leadership and has done so while helping to develop the next leaders of the Kalmbach Swine Production Team. His time with Kalmbach has involved him working in numerous positions, such as breeding manager, farrowing manager, farm manager, and sow unit supervisor. Those that work with and for Isler often credit his excellent managing, training, and mentoring skills to the success of the operations.
Above all else, Isler is always willing to lend a helping hand and serve as a leader for Kalmbach’s swine production team and the two multiplication farms for Topigs. His ability and desire to ensure proper production biosecurity and health of the pigs has led to his management of the Park Avenue training program for the entire system. Isler has also served as a 4-H advisor in Union County for numerous years and is an active supporter of the Richwood Independent Fair.
Ohio Pork Council Service
This year, the Ohio Pork Council is pleased to congratulate Dave Tebbe of Auglaize County with the 2021 Ohio Pork Industry Service Award. His passion for the pork industry began years ago when he began working with his father on their farrow to finish swine operation near Minster. As the pork industry evolved, he transitioned the family farm to a finish only facility through an aligned pork productive system with the local cooperative that he represented. This Interdependent Pork Production System included pig sourcing, marketing and logistics. Tebbe was certainly a catalyst in bringing this innovative concept to reality. As one of the key leaders, he brought independent pork producers together so that collectively they had access to better technology, genetics, and marketing resources. Tebbe was instrumental in helping to develop this program for independent pork producers in western Ohio. Because of his dedication to the creation of this system, it has been aligned for 25 years and marketed well over 1.5 million independently owned hogs. Tebbe is currently involving the third generation of pork producers on some of the same farms he started with 25 years ago.
Tebbe has devoted countless hours serving these independent producers to ensure they have an opportunity to compete in an ever-changing industry. By working interdependently these producers have succeeded and remained sustainable for the next generation. He has also worked with many different integrators across Ohio and nationally to help place pigs with quality growers, in central and western Ohio and northeast Indiana.
Today, with more than 40 years of professional experience serving the pork industry through the cooperative system, Tebbe remains active in promoting pork and the pig industry. Through his professional employment and volunteer time, he has been active with local pork producers by volunteering at state and county fairs. He is also known to be a leader in his community, as he continues to volunteer his time to community events and serving as a coach to numerous youth over the years.
He began his professional career in 1980 with Auglaize Landmark. Today, Tebbe works at Sunrise Cooperative serving livestock producers throughout the state of Ohio. He also operates Tebbe Farms in Auglaize County. He resides in Minster with his wife, Bev. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.
Friend of Pork
Ohio Ag Net and Ohio’s Country Journal were named this year’s Friend of Pork Award winners. For the occasion the Ohio Pork Council wrote: “The Ohio Ag Net and Ohio’s Country Journal provide a valuable service by keeping you informed with the latest news for your farming business while you drive the tractor or feed pigs. Yet, their team provides more than just the news and the markets, they are passionate caretakers and storytellers of Ohio’s farmers’ story. Whether it is through print, radio, online or social media platform, Ag Net’s team spreads the state’s agriculture news beyond Ohio’s state lines….They lend countless hours to promote what farmers do on the farm every day beyond words on a page or after the radio spot ends. The team is the industry’s biggest fan…Ag Net makes a positive impact on behalf of Ohio pig farmers and the entire state’s leading industry by being a stronger voice for Ohio agriculture.”
Kind words. Humble thanks.