Friday, February 24, 2017

Things You Might Notice Volunteering with National Pork Board

It has been my pleasure and honor to work with various aspects of the National Pork Board (NPB) in recent years. Since the Board is at one level a grassroots organization and a Public Private partnership at another, I would like to offer some observations. Here are 10 things I have observed about this organization.

1) The National Pork Board is a Public/Private partnership that is funded by mandatory checkoff dollars from anyone that sells a market hog.

 Public in that it is overseen closely by USDA in Washington DC. The secretary of Ag holds final appointment powers over the seats on the board. USDA, through the Ag Marketing Service, watches the $$$ closely. So closely in fact that if my wife travels with me on a Pork Board activity, we must keep separate receipts. An unexplained can of pop with my snack at the airport will get questioned. Interestingly,  a $40 dinner for me will sale right through.

Private in that the money that funds the organization comes directly and exclusively from private producer pocket books. Great effort is expended for all private producers to have a voice in how these $$$ are spent. I have found it quite possible for a single producer's voice to influence many actions of the Pork Board.

2) Money talks. It should surprise no one, that since funds are collected based on the sale of market animals, those who sell large numbers of animals contribute larger sums of $$$ than those who sell lesser numbers. This at one level is fair. It should not surprise you then to discover that those people/organizations that are contributing large numbers of $$$ to fund the organization seem to have a way of getting things done that are agreeable to their viewpoint. This is not to imply anything untoward of anyone. It is to recognize the reality that $$$ talks and wise management has a way of listening.

3) Generous and caring people. I have met many very fine caring people in my activities with the National Pork Board. I have found that the people involved have a natural bent toward generously helping others, even at great personal, mental, and financial expense. When I am in the company of fellow volunteers I feel a sense of connectedness, importance, and pride. It is an energizing thing.

4) Climate change is institutionalized. I have heard researchers say that scientist are not being promoted in academia unless their research has moved the needle on Climate Change. The big money is going to climate research. Academia has gotten the message loud and clear. The administration (written during the Obama administration) (USDA) is focused on climate change, controls board appointments at the National Pork Board, is the regulator that the National Pork Board must work with, so climate change is the order of the day.

"People pigs and planet", is the tag line that is published on every piece of paper coming from the National Pork Board. Which sounds very much like the tag line for the environmental accounting system know as "the Triple Bottom Line", that system is often called" Profit, People and Planet". read more here "People, Planet, Profit" appears way down This accounting leads directly to discussions of  sustainability and continuous improvement. Two concepts that are making obvious appearances in the National Pork Boards activities.

 Government control of an industry is not far behind, which, of course, equals the lose of private property rights, which means a lose of individual freedom. Gone are discussions about the freedom to operate that I used to hear at National Pork Board events. Secretary Vilsack states openly, "....we delegate the responsibility of raising food to farmers....". Where do I go to get my certificate that says the right to farm has been delegated to me?

5) There is a natural tendency toward organizations getting bigger. More regulations are not as harmful to the big operation as they are to the smaller one, so the big operation can use regulations to put pressure on the smaller one. The Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA) does exactly this. Whether it is intentional or not you can decide. The packers, who incidentally own a lot of hogs and therefore contribute a lot to the checkoff appear to me to be less concerned about the audit than the independent producer. This stands to reason, since the CSIA is funded and administered outside the National Pork Board's budget and control. The packers are the primary funders of the audits.

6) There are "elites" that have larger voices than others. They don't even have to own pigs or eat meat to influence NPB actions. Temple Grandin has never attended a meeting of the animal welfare committee in the time I have been there or been on a conference call that I have attended, but she can/has changed the course of the committee's decisions simply by dropping an email to the chairman. Is this wrong? I don't know. But it certainly puts her in a class of people where there are but a few members, an "elite".

Food industry executives and financiers are another group that has similar power. I witnessed this at the Sustainable Ag Summit, in a break out session on investing. It was clear the investment fund managers on the stage had the attention of the executives from some of the world's largest food companies and that policies were going to be changed in accordance with these views. No where in the discussion was the farmer or National Pork Board for that matter mentioned. Again, money talks.

7) Over in the beef side of life, cattlemen resisted the expansion of their checkoff. Ag Secretary Vilsack attempted to start a new checkoff which failed. The administration (USDA) then cut beef from dietary guidelines. You connect the dots.

The pork industry hired a CEO from the packing industry who made the rounds of state organizations talking about  People, Pigs, and Planet but saying the industry could define "Sustainability" however it wanted (see #4 above). This CEO lasted less than a year.  read of the reality here "...Sustainable development was defined by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987." A new CEO is hired who introduces himself as, "...working for those who pay checkoff...". See point #2. And " .....I am glad Pork doesn't have an RCALF...". If you see RCALF as a group of cattlemen adamantly defending individual property rights and personal freedom, I fear challenges ahead. (see point 4 and 9).

9) The pork industry is on a path of consolidation, the packers (the big $$$ in #1) seem to have a lot of control. They seem interested in margin on volume. This makes it easy to understand the industry's support for multinational trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The trade deals would bring in more volume, therefore more margin. Consequently, all I have heard as a producer is,  "It is great!", without any discussion of the impacts on freedom and US sovereignty. The added rules put pressure on the independent producer in the form of added costs that naturally drives those producers to consider contracting with the packers (see #5). I share more thoughts in this blog

10) I am not trained in corporate communication/politics/coalition building etc. I simply have my own eyes, ears, ideas and conscience (individualism) to fall back on and hope for support. Many things seem to be discussed outside of the meetings I attend since many of the people know each other on multiple levels from multiple professional situations. I have never felt directly excluded from a conversation in particular but many times the conversation goes right past me or over my head. I simply don't have the connections to piece the conversation together. This leaves me feeling like a lone small voice many times. But from time to time my voice makes a difference (see #1). I am glad I can have that kind of impact for my fellow producers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Videos featuring Charles Wildman

A Farmer's Tale

If you have a half hour, this video provides a window into my family life and thoughts.

I have also had the opportunity to discuss animal welfare, in two parts, on a panel for a PBS special.

Sustainability, Continuous Improvement, and Cllimate Change

Have you ever pondered the definition of the terms "sustainability" or more recently, "continuous improvement"? Did you ever ask a farmer for the definition of these words?

I attended a conference on behalf of the National Pork Board's animal welfare committee in November of 2016 entitled "2016 Sustainable Agriculture Summit" in Atlanta Georgia.

Somewhere along the way the thought occurred to me, "Both Sustainability and Continuous Improvement have at their core definition the necessity of measurement".

If you are an astronaut and are planning a trip in space one of the first questions you will have is, "Is it sustainable?" "Can I live through it?" "Is there enough air on board?" All these questions require measurement to answer. How long (measurement) will the trip be? How much (measurement) air does a person require for that time? And what margin (measurement) of error should be considered  adequate.

Continuous Improvement is similar in nature. How do I know if I am improving? I will need to measure what I am doing now. That measurement will become a benchmark from which all others are measured to ascertain improvement.

Measurement is so central to these two concepts that it is practically a synonym. If the word "sustainability" is replaced with "measurement" not much is lost in the meaning of the sentence. For example, one of the sessions at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit was titled "Implementing a Sustainable Framework in the Pork Supply Chain". This can also be written "Implementing a Measurable Framework in the Pork Supply Chain". Or another session was described as "Engaging farmers in on-farm conservation and broader sustainability measurability initiatives....

Continuous Improvement kind of tags along on this same definitional train. It becomes the first outcome of measurement. To improve you need two measurements to find improvement. A beginning point and then a point after taking an action aimed at improving.

These two measurement activities are extremely common and completely human. I check my weight. I check my blood pressure. I measure rate of gain in pigs. I measure days on feed. And on and on through life. All with the idea of improving or doing better next time. Measurement and continuous improvement are not a new discovery or idea.

One of the first rules of management that I learned so very long ago says, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." I am not concerned with the word "measurement" in this management truism. I am concerned with who the "you" is that is doing the management. If the "you" is "me", an independent producer and free citizen, then the management does not seem so scary. If the "you" becomes a government board or an industry auditor, let alone a global agency, with the power to impose standards on management and demand proof of compliance, I, the farmer, have lost the ability to manage my own farm. I have fundamentally lost freedom.

The concepts of measurement, continuous improvement, and management become drivers in the Climate Change dogmas. Specifically, the dogma that Climate Change is caused by man's activities and therefore man's activities need to be managed by..... who?. The typical answer right now is that the management must be done by the government and more specifically a global government.

I am hearing an enormous amount of discussion in farming about measuring new things. "Precision Farming", "Carbon Sequestration", "Cover Crops", "Methane Digesters", to name a few, that require the measurement of parameters that are new to the agricultural discussion. In general anything attached to the Carbon Footprint discussion takes measurement and recordkeeping. Keep in mind that every measurement creates multiple data points that need to be recorded, stored, and analyzed. So there is a whole different discussion to be had about data, its use, security, and ownership. Not that measuring is bad, as I have said. It is "who" is managing with that information that concerns me.

A couple other thoughts and I will stop.

All this data collection, reporting, analysis, and management takes time, money, and talent. So a natural advantage is created for the larger operator who can afford it. Read this as consolidation or vertical integration. I have discussed thoughts on this topic at On Mergers Foreign Ownership and Consolidation

The animal welfare discussion would be enormously different if there was a way to measure pain in an animal or human for that matter. Without measurement, management is guess work and writing meaningful regulations is impossible.

So I hope I have helped to point out that the timeless little action of "measuring" has found deep roots in the Climate Change discussion. How that proceeds has large implications for the future freedoms of agricultural producers.

You may learn more about my involvement with the National Pork Board at my blog entitled A Seat on the National Pork Board