Days after closing the books on a successful 2011, members of the National Pork Board begin 2012 in Chicago Jan. 11-13 with a busy three-day meeting that includes discussions with leaders of the Illinois Pork Producers Association.

“We had a very good year in 2011 on behalf of pork producers and their Pork Checkoff,” says Everett Forkner, a pork producer from Richards, MO., and president of the National Pork Board. “We launched a new brand campaign for pork; got some great news when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, using research spearheaded by the Pork Checkoff, lowered the recommended cooking temperature for pork cuts from 160 degrees to 145 degrees; celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Pork Checkoff; completed our project to identify pork production's carbon footprint, and saw several major restaurant chains add pork items to their menus.

“We can celebrate those successes, but we have a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to maintain our focus on continuous improvement," Forkner says. “I think we're all eager to begin working on the challenges ahead of us in 2012.”

The board's Illinois visit continues a tradition of beginning each new year on the home turf of a state pork association. A year ago, the board met with Oklahoma producers in Oklahoma City. In recent years, the board met with producers in North Carolina, Ohio and California.

 “Issues confronting pork producers can vary quite a bit based on geography," says Forkner. “It's important for Pork Board members, who also come from all parts of our country, to have the opportunity to learn about these issues and concerns directly from their fellow pork producers. These January meetings have become a good way to accomplish that.

“For example, our Illinois producers live and work in a state dominated by the nearly three million consumers in Chicago. So we've been encouraged by many pork producers in both Illinois and Indiana to consider providing significant financial support for a proposed pork production educational center that would be constructed adjacent to an existing dairy education center in Fair Oaks, IN, which is less than 50 miles from Chicago.”

Board members will travel to the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure Education Center on Wednesday afternoon (Jan. 11) to learn more about the proposal that is designed to give urban consumers an up-close look at a working hog farm. The board in November commissioned a marketing and business analysis of the proposal and will hear the results of that analysis during the visit.

While in Chicago, board members also will meet with McDonald's executives at the company's headquarters and with their dairy checkoff colleagues at Dairy Management, Inc.

“McDonald's is a major customer of the pork industry, so I think we're all eager to learn about how McDonald's planning might impact pork production,” Forkner says. “Our foodservice staff works closely with McDonald's on the development of pork menu items, but farmers don't always understand the complexities of getting new products on the menus at McDonald's and other restaurants. This meeting will give us a better look at that.

“I'm also eager to visit with our colleagues in the dairy industry,” Forkner says. “Both of our organizations have spent the last several years focusing on improving environmental sustainability, so it should be a good opportunity to compare notes and to learn how dairy farmers are planning to allocate their checkoff resources in the next few years.”

The Thursday afternoon (Jan. 12) agenda calls for an in-depth discussion with Illinois pork producers followed by a reception and dinner with the staff of Schafer Condon Carter, the advertising agency that created the board's new marketing campaign. During the board's business meeting on Friday morning (Jan. 13), the agency and members of the board's domestic marketing team will provide preliminary results from a study of the effectiveness of the new Pork® Be inspiredsm campaign launched last spring. “Early results have been very promising,” Forkner says.

Also on Friday, the board is expected to:

  • See the results of the annual benchmark survey of pork producers.
  • Review the 2012 Producer Communications Plan.
  • Receive a report from a task force studying potential improvements in the industry's Pork Quality Assurance® Plus program.
  • Receive a report from staff teams that visited more than 20 pork producers around the country during 2011 to assess industry needs that can be addressed through the Pork Checkoff.

Meetings of the National Pork Board are open to the public. Those wishing to attend are asked to contact Lorraine Garner, lgarner@pork.org, (515) 223-2600.