Those are the famed words of Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the late 19th century. They are often recited to someone who is enduring a particular hardship. It's meant to reinforce the human spirit, to reassure the recipient that the trials and tribulations overcome today will pay dividends in the future.

Nietzsche was an interesting fellow. He questioned many of the doctrines of his day, and offered some pretty radical thoughts about the traditional foundations that many measured their lives by in those days.

To use the phrase in the context of the pork industry and the many challenges it currently faces seems fitting. The lessons that will be learned from these hardships should come in the form of improved efficiency of feed utilization, more flexible use of alternatives to corn-based diets, greater use of benchmarking data to project future performance of groups of pigs, and new uses of nutrient-rich — perhaps energy-rich — swine manure.

The best possible outcome of these trying times will be the redoubled efforts of pork producers working with animal scientists and allied industry to carry the pork industry to the next level of efficient production of meat protein.

Master Mind

One of the most fascinating discussions I've had in some time came during an interview with Randy Stoecker, recently retired president of Murphy-Brown West. He is one of seven “Masters of the Pork Industry” featured in this issue.

Always the optimist, where others see gloom and doom, Stoecker sees challenges and opportunities for the industry to become even stronger, more competitive with other meat protein sources, domestically and globally.

“The only way to make serious change is to become totally disgusted with the status quo. Any tolerance for it will lead you right back to where you (currently) are,” he says flatly. “We really haven't had any innovation in about 20 years.”

For example, he asks, why do we change the air in hog buildings more frequently than we do in our own homes? Why do we heat large rooms and buildings? Couldn't we manage temperature in smaller zones or microenvironments? And, why don't we capture more of the pigs' body heat?

Good questions. With today's ever-increasing fuel prices, perhaps heat exchangers are worth another look. I installed one in the '80s and it worked pretty well. Surely, new technologies could make them more efficient today, not to mention the payback potential using skyrocketing fuel costs.

Stoecker openly admits to having more questions than answers. “I am quite comfortable talking about things that I have no real idea if they are possible or not. But, we will not be well-served if we just keep doing what we're doing.”

Where will these all-new insights come from?

Outsiders; people from other countries or other industries that can step away from our extensively standardized facilities and operating procedures to look at pork production through fresh, unbiased eyes.

If we can accomplish that, the changes the pork industry will see in the future will be more dramatic than the move to confinement, the adoption of artificial insemination, early weaning or many of the other advancements the industry has seen in recent decades. In doing so, Stoecker predicts that mastering today's production challenges could be “a watershed moment” for the industry.

A Substantive Challenge

I have been a part of the U.S. swine industry in one form or another for nearly five decades. I've seen sows moved into environmentally-controlled buildings to ensure their better care, nutrition and health. I've seen nearly every configuration of nursery and grow-finish facility there is. I've seen performance records and breeding programs refine the shape and composition of the modern meat type hog.

I've also seen pork producers and industry leaders take up a challenge time after time. I expect this is another of those times.

The industry - you - have done well.

We're in a tough stretch — no doubt about it. But there is a certain “stick-to-itiveness” in pig people that I've always admired. It's that dogged perseverance, the resolute tenacity to hang in there when things get especially tough.

Clearly, this industry has been tested before. Perhaps, never to this degree, but therein lies the challenge. Everyone in every business faces new paradigms in their personal and professional lives. Those who strive to overcome these tough odds will persevere.

There will be a U.S. pork industry in the future. The innovative thinkers and the tough spirits who are willing to tackle the challenge will ferret out what the industry will look like and how it will function in tomorrow's economic climate. Tough times will make us stronger.