The pork industry is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Its mandatory national checkoff, which will bring in an estimated $53 million even in this year’s “down” market, can’t address the governmental challenges you face every day. That’s because in seeking  Congressional approval of the 1986 Pork Act, the industry guaranteed no mandatory checkoff funds would be used to influence local, state or national  government activities. Those funds are reserved for pork promotion, producer and consumer education and product development.

Any activities remotely associated with any government body are off limits. Activities such as testifying before a congressional committee, visiting with the Environmental Protection Agency or negotiating trade issues are exempt from checkoff funds. Money for those efforts must come from such places as donations, political action committee events, World Pork Expo and state trade show booth sales and gate receipts.

If you’re not yet convinced of the tremendous affect government has on your business, you’re in denial. The No. 1 issue facing your industry today is the environment. Whether it’s odor, water quality or facility siting regulations, the local, state or federal government has its fingerprints on it. That means none of your checkoff dollars can work to represent your side of the issue.

You can add topics like food safety, animal drug approvals, national disease prevention, export negotiations and fair-market access, even taxes, to the checkoff-exempt list.

It’s unfortunate that the mounds of money you’re already contributing can’t be used to address issues having the greatest impact on your livelihood. But there’s no way to renegotiate that contract. The pork industry could never get a similar checkoff passed today.

The solution may or may not be a new “voluntary investment program” that you’ll be hearing a lot about in the months ahead. Producer delegates to last month’s National Pork Industry
Forum discussed the concept and approved a resolution outlining some of the details. The delegates are charged with taking the information back home to discuss with you. The National Pork Producers Council will hold a special fall session to vote on the program. 

People won’t use the “C” word, but  we are talking about a checkoff. The details could change, but for now here’s a look at what’s in the works:

- The national mandatory checkoff program would remain untouched. The current contribution rate is 45 cents per $100-value of the animal on all hogs each time ownership changes hands. Imported pork products contribute, but on a different formula.

- The voluntary contribution is proposed at 5 cents per head on hogs and sows at market. You would okay the deduction with your packer.

- Half of the funds would go to state pork producer associations, with 50 percent remaining at NPPC. (The National Pork Board would not be involved.)

- NPPC will “urge” its Packer and Processor Industry Committee to establish a matched fund, meaning they would contribute 2.5 cents for every 5 cents you commit. That money would go into a slush fund, to be used as needed.

- A fund where allied industry can participate is part of the plan as well.

Neither packers/processors nor allied industry have endorsed the last two ideas. NPPC will be wooing them this summer as well.

Some of this proposal may be hard for you to swallow, especially this year. If you produce more than one commodity, you’re already sending nickels and dimes here and there ù indeed, it adds up. If you specialize only in pork, participation is a no brainer.

One unanswered question is how similar state programs will affect national participation. Some already have voluntary checkoffs to fund public policy efforts. Those producers may be reluctant to dole out another nickel.

Another question is whether the  = corporate farms will participate. Their money already carries more political clout than yours or mine. A couple of corporate representatives were asked about their likely participation ù “yes” or “no” wasn’t part of their answer.

NPPC projects that 70 percent of the nation’s pork producers will volunteer 5 cents per hog. That would bring in about $3.3 million annually, which would double the noncheckoff dollars.

There are a lot of questions, and you need to ask them in the months ahead. Talk to fellow producers, employees and family. And call NPPC at (800) 456-7675°

You work hard to cut costs and boost efficiencies to remain competitive. Still, the wrong signature on the wrong bill could do more to determine who can and can’t compete. In the end, that 5 cents could be quite a bargain.