OFBF's David White, director of commodity relations, bi-weekly blog.

Pigs, crates and consumers

Pork industry giants Smithfield and Tyson recently announced plans to develop animal welfare improvements that include moving away from the practice of using gestation crates.

Smithfield’s announcement put in place incentives for contract pork farmers to shift to “group housing systems” for pregnant sows before 2022. After that, the company will only renew contracts with farmers who have switched to the new system. According to the announcement, the company has already transitioned 54 percent of sows on company-owned farms to the new system.

In a letter to its farmers, Tyson said that it was asking all suppliers to improve “quality and quantity of space” for sows in any new or redesigned barns beginning this year. The company went on to say that it believes future sow housing should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs.

Tyson claims it is proposing the changes as competitors and customers distance themselves from suppliers using housing that restricts the movement of sows. According to a company spokesperson, the steps Tyson outlined reflect input from its animal well-being advisory panel, customers, farmers and industry experts and shows its effort to balance consumer expectations with the realities of today’s hog farming business.

The National Pork Board professes the position, supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, that there are numerous ways to provide proper housing and care for sows. The board asserts that each housing system, including individual and group housing, free-access stalls and pastures, has welfare advantages and disadvantages that must be considered by a farmer. It believes that regardless of the type of system used, what really matters is the individual care given to each pig. The board went on to say that pork producers need workable, credible and affordable solutions for improving animal care. It’s evidence that the explosion of talk about food — some based on fact, some based on fiction — is transforming the marketplace and shaping opinions about those who produce food.

Whether they like it or not, in addition to farming, farmers now have another role: communicating and connecting with, as well listening to, consumers. It’s a role that the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and OFBF would like to help farmers evolve into and embrace.

Engaging in conversation about food production will help farmers understand what consumers want to know and help consumers learn more about how food is produced from the people who actually produce it.

In the end, we all have an interest in food. Friends and family are ranked the highest as a reliable source of information for food system issues. Are you prepared to be their go-to-person?

Learning Opportunities

OFBF will be hosting three regional training sessions that will help Farm Bureau members learn how to engage and focus on how to have a productive conversation that builds trust in food, farming and agriculture. The training sessions will also help members learn how to respond to questions about food system issues that consumers are asking and farmers need to answer.

Each training session will begin with light snacks, refreshments and registration at 6:30 p.m. All training sessions will begin at 7:00 p.m. and adjourn at 9:00 p.m. There is no registration fee to attend. However, advance reservations are required. Dates, locations and RSVP deadlines are as follows:

For more information about the training sessions contact David White at (614) 246-8261 or [email protected] To RSVP for a training session, contact Wanda Campbell at 614-246-8271 or [email protected]

Conversation with EASE Refresher Course Dates:

March 6

March 13

March 20