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Forkner talks about corn concerns, pork promotion

AUSTIN, Minn. — The National Pork Board president was keeping a close eye on corn progress while participating in the National Barrow Show held in Austin during September. He was also eager to talk about the new pork advertising campaign and cooking guidelines.

Everett Forkner, a swine breeder from Richards, Mo., was concerned that the USDA's Sept. 12 report lowered its forecast for the country's corn harvest by 3 percent from August. 

"I'm very concerned about the lack of profits in the pork sector for the next six months," he said, adding that scenario is possible if the corn crop is short. 

The industry is searching for alternative feed sources to corn, which is by far the largest feed ingredient in the hog industry. Forkner thinks more soft wheat will be used in hog diets in the next year, especially if it's priced similarly to corn. Feed represents about 68 percent of the cost for raising hogs, he said. 

If a pork producer locked in current and futures corn prices that were available in early September for the next six months, they would see a loss of $12 per head, he said, noting a forecast from Steve Meyer of Paragon Economics. 

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That negative profit margin is not nearly as severe as what pork producers went through in recent years, where losses were reaching $40 to $50 per head. From 2008 to 2010, the swine industry lost more than half its equity, he said. 

Profitability returned in late 2010 and the first half of this year. 

A bright light is that export markets are growing. Of all U.S. pork produced, approximately 20 percent to 23  percent is exported. Major markets are Japan, Mexico and China. 

"It's helped by the cheaper dollar," Forkner. 

The National Pork Board, as administrator of the Pork Checkoff, is hoping to encourage Americans to buy more pork. In March, it announced a new campaign, "Pork Be inspired."

"Pork is positioned as cheaper than beef with more versatility than chicken," Forkner said. 

Approximately half of the pork board's yearly budget is dedicated to the campaign. The board anticipates spending nearly $70 million total in 2011.

The campaign brought the first national television advertising for pork in more than five years. Media campaigns are targeting cities with big populations.

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The campaign will be monitored so the pork board knows whether it is increasing consumer awareness. They want to see a 10 percent increase in dollars spent on pork by 2015. 

Forkner is also expecting USDA's updated cooking temperature guidelines will help Americans enjoy more pork. 

In May, USDA announced it's safe to eat whole muscle cuts of pork that have been cooked to 145 degrees F and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving. The previous recommendation, which still applies to ground pork, called for cooking the meat to 160 degrees. USDA recommends home cooks use a thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to obtain the right temperature.

The lower cooking temperature may result in pork that's more pink than most home cooks are used to serving.

Forkner said it will help people to avoid over-cooking the meat.

"It's a lot more tender and flavorful," he said. 

According to Forkner, the higher cooking temperature used to be recommended to avoid trichinosis, an infection of a parasite people can get from eating undercooked meat. There hasn't been an outbreak in the United States from pork for more than 30 years. 

"It is no longer a threat to the U.S. industry or consumers," he said. 

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The National Pork Board says the new recommendation evolved from Pork Checkoff-funded research, starting with a $1.5 million project conducted by Ohio State University that studied consumer eating preferences.

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