Checkoff's approval rating is sought in USDA survey.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is conducting a “request for referendum” survey on the Pork Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, more commonly known as the pork checkoff. The survey has been a topic of discussion since Feb. 28, 2001, when the USDA announced a settlement agreement, which effectively required a “distinct separation” between the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council.

That agreement also specified that a survey of all eligible pork producers and pork importers would be conducted sometime after June 2003, asking if a referendum on the mandatory checkoff program should be held.

The survey period is Dec. 8, 2008 through Jan. 2, 2009. Participants must be at least 18 years old and must have documentation that they were actively engaged in pork production or the importation of pigs, hogs or pork products between Jan. 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2007.

For a referendum of the checkoff to be staged, 15% of pork producers and pork importers must go to their USDA county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office, fill out form LS-54-1, sign and submit (or postmark) it before midnight on Jan. 2, 2009. Forms may be requested from FSA offices in person, by fax, by mail or by downloading them from the Web site: www.ams.usda.gov/LSMarketingPrograms.

The USDA says there are about 69,446 eligible pork producers and importers, so 10,417 votes favoring a referendum on the pork checkoff must be cast.

A Civic Duty

As a journalist covering the U.S. pork industry, it is my civic duty to provide the details for this “call for referendum” survey. It's no secret, however, that I am an ardent supporter of the pork checkoff. Although we try hard to offer balanced reporting of all pork checkoff-funded programs and activities in our regular editorial pages, this “opinion page” allows me the opportunity to openly express my support of this self-funded, self-help program for the U.S. pork industry.

The survey process also affords each of you the challenge to stop and think about your checkoff investment, how it has served you and, more importantly, how it will serve you in the future.

Consider some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead:

  • Animal rights activists will keep the pressure on. The passage of California's Proposition 2 banning individual sow gestation stalls has empowered them. Solid research that will stand scrutiny from both sides of this issue must be funded to ensure your hogs and pigs can be raised and housed in the best possible environment.

  • The value of exports to the U.S. pork industry is unquestionable. The need to reinforce the value and quality of U.S. pork to our global customers is ongoing.

  • Research is the mainstay of any progressive industry. Whether focused on porcine circovirus, PRRS, the conversion of feedstuffs to meat protein, or employee training, research will lead the way toward more efficient, sustainable pork production.

These and other issues are included in the plan of work and the National Pork Board's budget for 2009. This is your money and it is vital that everyone understands the process of prioritizing checkoff funding and how the checkoff rate is set.

The latter issue is periodically brought before the Pork Act delegate body for consideration during National Pork Industry Forum held each March. Whether the checkoff rate should be increased or decreased is always open for debate.

Voice Your Opinions

Much has changed in the U.S. pork industry since the mandatory pork checkoff was enacted in 1985. The cost to produce a pound of pork has steadily increased, as we all know, particularly feed costs. Energy costs, too, continue to climb. More research in these and other critical areas is needed to guide all pork producers to a higher, more efficient plain. A unified, pooled effort will move us in the right direction, faster, than any one person or firm can do on their own.

Agree or disagree — it is imperative that your voices be heard. Whether you cast a ballot in the USDA survey or place a call to your state delegate to Pork Forum, it is your responsibility to air your views on where the checkoff rate should be set and how that investment should be allocated.

Chances are you were motivated to vote in the November elections. Now is the time to channel that proactive energy into your pork industry to ensure your pork checkoff investment targets your highest priorities.

Whether the pork checkoff impacts your business, there is no doubt. How you participate in the industry's platforms is left to everyone — individually and collectively. Regardless of your stand, be sure your voice is heard.