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New president says pork producers need to take back industry

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 9:15 AM

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DES MOINES —Greg Lear, the new president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, has been involved in the pork industry in one way or another since he graduated from college

He grew up at Slayton, Minn., and went to work as an IBP hog buyer after graduating from South Dakota State University with an animal science degree.

He was working for a breeding stock company when he purchased a feed store with two partners. Spencer Ag Center has grown from 12 employees a little over six years ago to 21 employees today.

"We work with independent pork and cattle producers," Lear said during an interview at last week's Iowa Pork Producers Association annual meeting in Des Moines.

He lives in Spencer but owns a wean to finish hog business in Alton where Pat and Gene Zenk custom feed his pigs. He gets 550 isowean pigs every nine weeks.

"I pride myself on marketing all over," Lear said. "A guy from Michigan helps me market. I'm 100 percent open market. I delivered to 10 packing plants in 2012."

Lear started as an associate board member with IPPA eight years ago at the urging of Tim Bierman of Larabee. He went from associate board member to having pig ownership. Producers in northwest Iowa picked him as their representative to the state board.

There are important issues facing pork producers face in the coming year, Lear said.

"I sometimes feel like we'll be herding cats down a highway," he said. "Our board is a very diverse group of grassroots producers."

Lear expects the board will do battle "with the big bully on the block, HSUS."

The Humane Society of the United States has increased efforts to dictate what sort of sow housing systems producers can use, Lear said. That concerns him. He also expects to see increased efforts to control livestock producers' antibiotic use.

"Our industry is under constant attack from different directions and our way of life is being threatened," Lear said. "We're going to take our industry back using the same tactics as our opponents —one consumer at a time. As producers we're the ones who need to tell our story the way it needs to be told."

The pork industry is opposed to new USDA rules governing school lunches and is working to have rules changed to permit more pork and other protein to be served to students, Lear said.

At last summer's Iowa State Fair, Lear thanked them for increased pork purchases for nutrition programs. He told them that protein requirements in the new school nutrition standards needed to be higher.

"We have a major issue with the calorie count, but especially the protein content of the new lunch rules," Lear said. "A growing mind and a growing body do not need to be shorted protein. We need to get Washington, D.C.'s attention."

Lear has worked with Clay County Pork Producers to bridge the gap between consumers and producers. The group won an award for its program to help 4-H members who don't live on farms show pigs. The group also works with a summer program to teach children about agriculture.

Feed costs remain a concern for pork producers.

"If we don't get rain, feed costs will be a major part of our challenges down the road," he said.