That’s a wrap.” Three little words uttered by a movie director when the final scene is finished have a succinct message: we’ve done all we can with the time and resources at our disposal, it’s now time to move on.

The phrase fits the magazine publishing business, too. We mark our annual publishing progress by assigning a volume number and a monthly edition number to each issue.

As I write this column for Vol. 56, No. 12, we are sandwiched between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Thanksgiving leftovers, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are mere memories as we brace for the shopping-day countdown and a steady stream of “buying opportunities” that ranges from Chia pets to luxury automobiles. The hustle and bustle leaves little time for reflection.

We try to do our part by compiling and summarizing a year’s worth of swine research reports each December. The subject matter runs the gamut — from animal welfare to iodine values in pork carcasses.

A Quick Recap

As New Year draws near, it is common for media organizations — broadcast, print, now digital — to recap the year’s most significant events.

In the hog business, the roller-coaster ride began early and proceeded through the year as grain and hog markets moved up and down by fits and starts. We watched planting intentions and crop progress closely, while keeping a watchful eye on depleting corn reserves. Would we have enough corn? Is rationing a real possibility? If push came to shove, who would get first dibs — food manufacturers, livestock producers, ethanol? It never came to that, but the question still plagues us.

Bright spots on most producers’ lists included pork exports and retail pork prices on a record-setting pace. A late-November CME Daily Livestock Report noted pork prices have set seven new record-highs over the last 18 months, while supplies remained relatively steady and pork exports continued to grow.

Recently, I discovered Technomic, Inc. (www.Technomic.com), a food industry consulting firm, that through their MenuMonitor database, monitors menus from thousands of independent and chain restaurants around the globe. They reported a 7% increase in pork dish menu mentions over the past year.

“Restaurants are using pork more often in main dishes and as an accompanying ingredient in menu items for various reasons,” explains Technomic’s Bernadette Noone, MenuMonitor director. “The higher cost of beef has made pork a nice substitute in combo dishes.”

The passing and signing of three highly anticipated free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea brought more good news. The three FTAs could potentially add $11 or more to each hog marketed.

Challenges Ahead

This time last year, I had just returned from the massive livestock-focused trade show, Euro-Tier, in Hanover, Germany. Key take-a-ways were two-fold — the electronic age has swept through livestock production much as it dominates our daily lives. Loose sow housing got top billing as European Union producers face a Jan. 1, 2013 deadline to abandon sow gestation stalls.

Public concerns about antibiotic use in livestock production continue to be a major challenge for all livestock producers. Although the risk of antibiotic resistance in pork production is very low, the issue isn’t likely to go away.

Corn and the growing list of alternative feed ingredients used to take its place in swine diets remains top-of-mind. A focus on the efficient conversion of all nutrients to quality pork is sure to continue.

Talk of greenhouse gases, carbon footprints and environmental stewardship has become part of the industry’s vernacular and, as it always has, remains a high priority anchored in a centuries-old commitment to utilize the nutrients in swine manure to fertilize crops — a supreme example of recycling.

Clearly, the productivity of the nation’s sow herd continues to edge upward. Tight margins drove producers to pull out all of the stops in efforts to maximize the number of quality pigs weaned and placed in grow-finishers. The push to hit the 30 pigs/sow/year goal presented greater challenges and opened new debates about the milestone and its merits.

Then there’s PRRS. No doubt, our base of knowledge about this persistent virus continues to grow, but long-lasting solutions remain elusive. Some regional virus elimination programs show some promise.

There are more challenges, to be sure, but I think we will leave it at that for now. Therefore, I will close by wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas.

That’s a wrap.