The pork industry has been on a roller-coaster ride over the past seven months concerning the national pork checkoff program. With USDA and a group of producer plaintiffs reaching a settlement agreement that will keep the checkoff in place, at least for a while, many in the industry are looking for some stability.

But that will take some more time. The most significant part about what I'll call the USDA agreement is that the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board must part ways. At the core of the issue was the fact that the lines between industry (checkoff) programs and policy (non-checkoff) positions were too blurred.

As a brief background, NPB has always been responsible for the national pork checkoff in terms of collecting and distributing funds as well as implementing programs and projects. Those specified for checkoff funding were any relating to promotion, education and research. Rather than organize its own administrative structure, NPB decided to farm out program tasks– largely to NPPC. That will now change. NPB will take on all responsibilities for implementing checkoff programs, including managing the staff that it takes to make programs reality.

NPPC, meanwhile will step away from the program side of the equation. Consequently, it will receive no checkoff funding. Because checkoff money can't be spent on policy (legislative or regulatory issues) NPPC will take on those responsibilities. Determining what other directions NPPC might take will be the responsibility of a task force assigned at last week's Pork Industry Forum. The task force will look at things like funding, membership, priorities, needs and the like. Look for a preliminary report at this year's World Pork Expo.

USDA's agreement calls for the two organizations to begin the division as soon as possible. The agency is allowing for a phased approach, but it needs to be completed about this time next year.

Among the assets that NPPC owns, and NPB might want, are the "Pork. The Other White Meat" slogan and the Des Moines office building. Both were completed without the use of national checkoff dollars, which would have made them NPB's property. Certainly both assets offer NPPC the opportunity to generate some much needed funding regardless of whether the association decides to lease or sell them. It's logical that NPB will at least lease the office building in the near term, if for no other reason than to begin the transition quickly and smoothly. The long-term fate of the building is yet to be determined.

Look for the NPPC headquarters to move to Washington D.C. NPPC's chief executive officer and chief financial officer can't make the move to NPB for at least two years. Any NPPC staff who spent 50 percent or more of his or her time on checkoff program can make the shift. NPB will name an interim CEO and CFO, likely a third party entity such as a PriceWaterhouse. A search committee is looking for permanent person for each job, expected within 90 to 120 days.

There are a lot of details to be sorted out and both NPPC and NPB have established transition teams to work on the task.

NPPC's transition team is made up of producers Barb Determan, NPPC president, Iowa; David Roper, NPPC president-elect, Idaho; Jon Caspers, NPPC vice president, Iowa; Don Herzog, Montana; Whitley Stephenson, North Carolina; and Roy Henry, Kansas.

NPB's team consists of producers John Kellogg, NPB president, Illinois; Tom Floy, Iowa; Richard Alig, Oklahoma; Mike Bayes, Ohio; Brad Thorton, Idaho; and Craig Christensen, Iowa.

NPB will be holding "listening sessions", possibly six to 10, around the country. While the dates and places are yet to be determined, NPB will be working quickly to begin the process. This is your opportunity to express your wishes, opinions and concerns. To find out more about these sessions you can call NPB at (800) 456-7675.

Barry Carpenter, with USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, says the agency will be actively and closely watching the transition process. Once the transition is complete USDA will have no oversight authority over NPPC, but will involving NPB because of the national checkoff.

This is certainly a major transition for the nearly 40-year-old NPPC, and consequently for the industry. The pork industry's strength has always been its ability to speak with one voice. But with now two organizations and a increasingly diverse production sector, the ability to speak with one voice also is more difficult. Hopefully it will not be impossible.