MINNEAPOLIS -- The apparent end of a national pork promotion program has some Minnesota producers considering a state checkoff to replace it.
Hog producers around the country recently voted to end a mandatory payment, called a checkoff, of 45 cents per every $100 of a pig's value when it is sold. The money went to the quasi-governmental National Pork Board and paid for promotion, research and consumer information.
The National Pork Producers Council, partly funded through the program, and several other groups are suing in federal court, seeking to keep the checkoff program alive.
The Minnesota Pork Producers Association is not joining the lawsuit, but the organization was to address the impact of the national vote at its annual meeting in Minneapolis on Monday. The group's annual Pork Congress, which includes seminars and a trade show, was set for Tuesday and today at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Among the options that will go before the 120 voting delegates will be the possibility of instituting a mandatory state checkoff with a refund provision, said David Preisler, executive director of the 3,000-member MPPA.
A state checkoff would come out of payments for hogs sold to Minnesota markets and would go to the MPPA, but farmers who don't want to contribute could apply to get their money back, Preisler said.
The Nebraska Pork Producers Association already has voted to support a state checkoff, and South Dakota farmers are considering one, too.
A Minnesota checkoff would be voted on by the state's hog producers, who narrowly favored keeping the national checkoff, voting 1,593 to 1,477 in support of it.
Jim Joens opposed it.
"The checkoff virtually did nothing to support my operation," said Joens, whose farrow to finish operation in Wilmont was wiped out in 1999 by pseudorabies, a swine virus. Now he buys pigs from a producer in Nebraska and then sells them, in addition to raising cattle and about 500 acres of crops.
Joens would rather use the $700 he paid into the checkoff program last year on things that "directly affect my farm and my bottom line."
The results of the national referendum -- 15,951 to 14,396 to end the program -- was a "huge statement for agriculture, that hey, even though you might be just a person, your vote does count," Joens said. "I don't think anybody realizes how big a deal this is. It's huge. It's going to set the precedent in this country for other commodities."
Paul Sobocinski works part time with the Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit group that promotes stewardship for farmland and sustainable agriculture.
Sobocinski, who runs a farrow to finish operation of about 500 to 600 hogs a year, said the National Pork Producers Council should honor the vote and drop its lawsuit.
"I think NPPC promotion efforts have failed family producers," he said. "What's most important ... is what is it doing for the producer's bottom line?"
Sobocinski said he would support a voluntary checkoff program that lets farmers decide if they want to contribute and to choose which organizations get the money, he said.
"We were forced by a mandatory tax to contribute to an organization that we don't support," he said.
Some producers, however, say they will lose the benefits the national checkoff provided.
Larry Liepold, who heads the MPPA's research committee, said farmers will notice a gap in promotion and research.
Minnesota received about $900,000 last year from the checkoff program. About $192,000 of that was budgeted for research last year, Liepold said.
Liepold, who has a farrow to finish operation with 125 sows near Okabena, has been research chair for two years.
"Research, education or promotion doesn't add a penny to the price of hogs," he said. "What they do ... is they give the producer more tools to work with. ... In the end, those things do add to the bottom line."
Preisler said the biggest impact state hog producers will see is the loss of national pork promotions on both coasts. "That's where most people are. And we don't raise hogs there," he said.
On the Net:
Minnesota Pork Producers Association: http://www.mnpork.com
Land Stewardship Project: http:/www.landstewardshipproject.org
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