‘Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?’

These lyrics from the traditional New Year's Eve song “Auld Lang Syne” — often sung in full voice and revelry — seem especially fitting as we bid farewell to 2009.

The oft-misunderstood words probably have as many translations as there are singers. It is a Scottish tune written by struggling poet and songwriter Robert Burns, first published in 1796. Burns borrowed heavily from a poem written during the mid-16th century by Sir Robert Ayton. An interesting side note — Burns was also a tax collector.

Translated, the first verse is actually: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of long ago.” Then, the chorus: “For old long ago, my dear, for old long ago, we will take a cup of kindness yet, for old long ago.”

Many in the pork industry are more than ready to put the trials and tribulations of 2009 behind us. It will stand as one of the most financially and psychologically taxing years — ever.

A Year, A Decade

Misfortune came early in the year in the form of the novel H1N1 influenza virus, which many in the popular news media continue to stubbornly call “swine flu,” inflicting real and subconscious doubts in consumers' minds about the safety of eating pork. Many cried “foul,” but the moniker persists.

Then there was the corn crop. Good in some parts, not so much in others. Cool, wet weather not only hampered the crop's maturity and harvest, it left behind pesky molds and mycotoxins that will likely haunt us throughout the coming year.

Ceremoniously, flipping the calendar to 2010 put the less-than-stellar year behind us, but more startling to me was the realization that Dec. 31 marked the end of the first decade of the new millennium.

Wasn't it just yesterday that we fretted about the Y2K meltdown? A non-event, it turns out, but there was a great deal of hand-wringing as we entered a new century.

Hog and pork prices gyrated during the decade — beginning at a historic low point, rallying through the mid-years to show promise and profit. But plentiful supplies and unprofitable prices have tapped heavily into producers' net worth the past two years.

Production levels and pork exports provided the high points for the decade. Reproductive performance showed steady improvement, but also counterbalanced efforts to trim overall production throughout the past several quarters. Still, U.S. producers reinforced their position as leading contenders in the world of least-cost production.

As the U.S. and global economy sputtered into a full-fledged recession, pork's market share held relatively steady, but foreign buyers delivered political punches by curbing pork purchases. The lessons learned — be wary of banking too heavily on fickle export markets.

To recap, in the decade of the '00s of the new millennia: The Y2K bug was averted, a presidential election was deadlocked, terrorists used airplanes as deadly weapons and unnerved a nation, the iPod was unveiled, an Iraqi dictator was brought to justice, Enron crumbled, Hurricane Katrina hit, a major freeway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, a young Senator from Illinois became the first African-American president of the United States, unemployment climbed to 10.2%, and Twitter and Facebook entered the world's vocabulary and launched a new social media.

What's next?

Looking 10 years hence, the debate over alternative energy sources — solar, wind, natural gas and biofuels — will continue, global warming will ensnarl debate among scientists and legislators, carbon-trading may become a new international currency, broadband access will expand to rural areas, and the untangling of a national health care initiative will likely consume the next decade.

Closer to home, the march toward more efficient use of feed grains and energy resources will reach deeper into pork producers' production methods, while more stringent biosecurity measures, new vaccines and disease eradication efforts will be launched. Marker-assisted genetic selection, semen sexing and cryopre-served boar semen are likely to gain more favor.

When things get better — and they will — and you're tempted to coast a little, don't do it! The lessons learned and the challenges mastered will prove invaluable in the next and succeeding hog cycles. Constant focus on efficiency and sustainability is always a good bet.

I'll close, then, in the spirit of Auld Lang Syne, lifting a cup of kindness in salute to a year most are ready to shed, but a year we cannot and should not forget. Here's wishing you all good health and higher hog prices. Cheers!