Over the last 24 months, it’s probably fair to say that anyone within ear shot of the pork industry has not gotten much positive reinforcement about its job prospects.

The combination of free-flowing red ink and the media’s persistent miscues about the H1N1 influenza virus has left economic and psychological scars — not only on the industry workforce, but also on those challenged to recruit new, young talent.

The economic situation is correcting; the H1N1 fuss has thankfully subsided. And, the legendary resolve of pork producers is resurfacing.

Clearly, the future of any industry is built on a foundation of youthful exuberance and optimism. The challenge is to find and mentor the young hog enthusiasts that are
out there.

Talent Pool

One of the real success stories in the U.S. pork industry in the last decade is the National Junior Swine Association (http://www.national swine.com/njsa/njsa.html). In 2000, the National Swine Registry (NSR), the official registration bureau of the Duroc, Hampshire, Landrace and Yorkshire breeds, launched the junior association with 400 charter members. In 10 short years, membership has grown to 11,000 boys and girls.

NSR CEO Darrell Anderson proudly calls NJSA “the fastest-growing youth organization in all of animal agriculture” and he describes its members as “a great pool of young talent.”

In 2003, a similar group, Team Purebred (www.teampurebred.com), was established for young enthusiasts of the Berkshire, Chester White, Poland China and Spotted breeds. Team Purebred boasts 2,200 members today.

Junior members participate in regional and national shows, skillathons, speech competitions, scholarship programs, showmanship and judging contests. Much like the 4-H and FFA youth swine programs, these young people learn to properly care for and handle their pigs. They learn to win — and lose. They develop valuable communication and leadership skills. In short, these youth programs often serve as a springboard to post-high school education programs and, eventually, to professional careers with allied industry or hands-on pork production.

Swine Programs in Jeopardy

There is genuine concern in the pork industry today about the future of community college and technical school programs, as well as swine-based college curriculums. Budget pressures have forced college administrators and advisory boards to trim classes and programs.

Funding is hard to come by and grant dollars tend to target new technologies vs. production-based research and education.

University of Illinois Chancellor and Provost Bob Easter, a veteran swine nutritionist, recently noted that research dollars are increasingly driven toward national economic priorities, such as biotechnology, computer science and environmental technologies. Easter says you need only look to the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package, where the president approved $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $3 billion to the National Science Foundation, and $2 billion to the Energy Department. The allocation to the USDA for competitive research was a big fat goose-egg. Zilch!

Stepping to the plate on the education side, the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence (USPCE; www.uspork
center.org), is developing separate educational programs that target professional careers in allied industry as well as hands-on pork production.

USPCE staff and advisors have been working with major universities and community college/technical school staffs to ensure appropriate coursework is available for different career tracks. Both programs include mandatory, skills-based laboratory sessions and on-farm intern programs.

Invest in the Future

Not everyone is cut out for a four-year college degree. Even fewer choose to pursue a master’s, doctorate or veterinary medicine degree. Some people prefer research in a laboratory, while others enjoy the day-to-day challenges of the increasingly sophisticated pork production systems. We need them all.

As high school graduation ceremonies fade and college students arrive home for the summer, encourage the agricultural businesses in your area to hire and mentor the ambitious young adults in your community. Partner with your community college or technical school on an internship program. Expose those fresh, open minds to the challenges and rewards of a career in the pork industry.