Protecting hog health and coping with disease issues are the biggest challenge for pork producers, a survey released this week at the National Pork Industry Forum in Kansas City, Mo., found, though hog producers are still optimistic about the future of the industry.
The hog health response is not surprising, given Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus continues to impact farms across the country.
"In a year that brought significant herd losses due to PEDV, the survey underscores that the issue is still top of mind for many producers," said Karen Richter, National Pork Board president. "But with this concern comes opportunity for the Pork Checkoff, with 27% of producers also saying that the Checkoff was best positioned to fund additional research into PEDV."
At 27%, providing PEDV research ranked first from a defined list of choices when asked "How can the Checkoff help you in 2014?" However, that direction changes slightly when those surveyed were asked to fill-in their own blank.
When asked the open-ended question of "What is the single most important thing the Pork Checkoff can do to help your operation be more successful?, six of 12 answers related to marketing pork. Advertising and promoting pork ranked No. 1 at 23%, followed by educating consumers about the safety of pork at 12%. Additional marketing-related concerns included improving export and international trade potential, increasing demand, opening more markets to pork and improving the sale price of hogs.
The challenging events of the past year also may have served to unite the industry in a focused direction. According to the survey results, 75% of the 550 respondents reported that the pork industry is on the "right track." Not only is that result the highest in survey history, but is up 16 points from the 2012 result of 59%.
"This is a very strong result," said Richter. "Producers are satisfied, and whether you run a small, family farm or are part of a larger organization, there is a sense of optimism - especially among producers age 18 to 54. That says a lot about the future of our industry."
Of the 13% of producers that said the industry was headed in the wrong direction, the most commonly reported reason was related to competition, too much regulation, the inability to turn a profit and disease problems. Only 6% of those surveyed blamed their lack of optimism on "disease."
Image of pork industry also seen as improving
Another indicator that things are looking up is that, in general, those pig farmers surveyed believe that the consumers' image of their work has improved, up 6 percentage points from last year. A total of 56% of producers surveyed said that consumer image is positive, with only 21% saying the image is negative.
At 56%, this positive perception among producers is the second highest in each of the last five years of the survey, and up from 50% in 2012. Likewise, producers feel that negative impressions have decreased - from 24% in 2012 to 21% in 2013 - a positive change of three percentage points.
Record-high approval of the Pork Checkoff
A final indicator of producer optimism is support of the Pork Checkoff. According to the 2013 survey, 87% of producers, the highest level on record, said that they support the Checkoff, with only 6% in opposition. The remaining producers either were neutral in their support or did not know how to respond.
"In my opinion, this is a vote of confidence in the steps we take every day to promote pork and provide valuable research to our producers," said Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. "The difference of 81 points separating support from opposition is the highest in the survey's 12-year history. It is to a point that it will be difficult to improve upon this score, but we'll continue to work hard to earn the trust and confidence of all producers."