As Pork Board president, Nelson wants to tell producers' story
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 07/09/2012 8:34 AM
DES MOINES — Conley Nelson, the new president of the National Pork Board, wants to do a better job of telling the story of the good job pork producers do. He also wants to increase producers' awareness of the value they receive from the National Pork Board.
Nelson was elected to his post last week just prior to the start of the World Pork Expo.
The NPB has responsibility for Checkoff-funded research, promotion and consumer information projects along with communicating with producers and the public.
Nelson grew up on a farm near Goldfield. He manages a 4,400-head wean to finish facility on the farm that has been in his family since 1891 contract finishing for Murphy Brown, the company he works for as general manager of Midwest operations. Nelson is responsible for Murphy Brown's pig production in South Dakota, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Iowa.
"We have over 400 farmers who contract grow with us," Nelson said. "I deal with the management of my own site. I have labor that I employ, but I deal with paying all the bills, and I know what the costs are. It keeps me grounded on our program and how we offer that to our growers. It's great to work with lots of farmers, see our industry do as well as it does and be profitable."
Nelson is optimistic about the industry, but acknowledges challenges exist.
"We have a good product and a good future," he said. "U.S. pork producers are dedicated, committed, versatile and have tremendous tenacity. One thing they don't do well is tell their story. We're a modest industry. We're not out there bragging. We're trying to get the job done."
A recent Checkoff-funded study looked at how the industry's gains in production efficiency over the last 50 years resulted in a 35 percent decrease in carbon footprint, a 41 percent reduction in water use and a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork.
Nelson said the industry has been portrayed in a negative way too many times.
"Pork producers know they've improved," Nelson said. "Everyone keeps data today. People are driven by improvement. I think the Pork Board can play a role in telling that story for our producer."
Nelson is frustrated by announcements by food companies dictating farming practices such as McDonald's announcement that it will phase out purchases of pork from producers using sow gestation stalls by 2022.
It has the potential to divide the industry.
"When I came on the board four years ago, we had very small producers and I represent a very large producer, but we all had the same challenges and were dealing with the same issues. People were aligned in getting PQA Plus certified and getting sites assessed. I fear these announcements could divide us, but I'll do all I can to keep our industry working together."
The National Pork Board will step up efforts to meet with food companies about producers' continuous improvement.
"Jared Sutton, who is on the Pork Board staff, organizes meetings twice a year with our retail advisory committee," Nelson said. "They are the company officials who are buying the pork. These companies are so big that getting to all decision makers is a challenge. Jared is going to talk to more than the buyers, he'll be talking to PR people, sustainability people and people who make decisions."