Two burning issues led producer's priority lists at Pork Industry Forum — the impact of biofuels on feedgrain prices and animal welfare.

In all, 42 resolutions were brought before the delegates to the annual meetings of the National Pork Board, charged with the management and allocation of pork checkoff funds, and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the public policy outreach arm of the U.S. pork industry.

Seventeen resolutions fell under the broad umbrella of alternative fuels and their impact on feedgrain prices.

Pork Act delegates passed a resolution prioritizing checkoff funding for research and education aimed at more efficient uses of the biofuel byproducts. The Illinois resolution was amended with a plea to “expand research in the areas of nutritional efficiency and feed costs in swine diets.”

High on their list of priorities for byproduct research included refining diet recommendations, getting a better handle on byproduct quality and consistency, their impact on pork quality, and the handling and processing challenges that accompany them.

Several of the 14 state resolutions presented to NPPC delegates reinforced those identified in Pork Act resolutions. Focusing on public policy issues, the NPPC delegates voted to:

  • Support the early release of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres back into crop production (without penalty).

  • Support the findings of a Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) study analyzing the impact of corn-based ethanol production on the livestock industry, requesting that the results be considered in the writing of the 2007 farm bill.

  • Request federal research grants to study the use of co-products from biofuels in swine diets, including the impact on meat quality and animal health.

  • Support the extension of the blender's credit and the development of a counter-cyclical blender's credit system tied to oil price.

  • Support the expiration of the 51¢/gal. ethanol blender's tax credit on Dec. 31, 2010, and, support the expiration of the 54¢/gal. tariff on imported ethanol set for Dec. 31, 2008.

  • Support incentives aimed at capturing and digesting methane from swine manure as an alternative energy source. The Illinois Pork Producers Association filed the methane digestion resolution, but it was the pork producers from North Carolina who were most excited about this initiative.

In mid-February, the North Carolina Pork Council approached state legislators, asking them to fund a seven-year pilot program aimed at testing the feasibility of capturing methane from hog waste to generate electricity. Progress Energy, a Raleigh, NC-based utility company, signed on in support of the program, pending funding from the legislature.

The utility company said it would purchase the electricity at 18¢/kilowatt hour — considerably more than the 4.5 to 5.5¢/kwh normally paid to non-utility generators of electricity. The higher rate would help producers justify the capital investment needed to cover operating costs.

Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm, addressing Pork Forum delegates, perhaps said it best: “There's no such thing as animal waste. What we have is surplus animal nutrients that can be converted to energy.”

Animal Welfare

Sharing top billing at Pork Forum was animal welfare. Several resolutions encouraged participation in the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) certification program, the widely accepted program emphasizing good management practices in the handling and use of animal health products.

The National Pork Board announced plans to merge PQA with the education and assessment program centered on the care and well-being of pigs outlined in the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP). The new combo, entitled PQA Plus, will be rolled out at World Pork Expo in June.

Sow Housing Forum Unveiled

It was apparent that Smithfield Foods' announced plan to eliminate the use of individual stalls throughout the gestation period was fresh on the delegates' minds. Many attended a special producer update session focused on the topic.

Recognizing that many producers are in the throws of making decisions about sow housing in gestation, we invited Pork Checkoff staff and others to join in the planning and presentation of a Sow Housing Forum set for June 6, the day before World Pork Expo. The forum will be held at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines.

The conference program is being finalized and the full slate of speakers and registration information will be available soon via meeting brochures and the sponsors' Web sites — and Watch for more details in our April and May issues.