It used to be that raising hogs was enough. Goals were based on things like raising one more pig per sow per year, and getting hogs to market quicker on less feed. But along the way, people outside of your operation started piling additional responsibilities on your plate.

Manure management, environmental stewardship, animal welfare, more savvy marketing strategies and product quality demands entered the scene with a fervor in the 1990s.

Competition also has upped the ante. Consolidation within pork production as well as in the packing, processing and retail meat sectors has all played a role in heaping additional portions onto your plate. How you respond to these new and future responsibilities will dictate your ability to compete. Over the years, you have gone from being a pig producer to a pork producer to a food producer. But it doesn't stop there. The hunger to link further through the pork chain and move closer to the consumer makes you a "meal-solutions provider."

What does that mean? Adding value is not simply about raising leaner, higher quality pork; it's not even about food safety. It's about determining what consumers want – or might want in the future. It's about identifying an unfulfilled need and finding a solution – a meal solution.

One such example is the turkey industry's move from the whole bird – which is not a meal-friendly option in today's world – to ground turkey, stir-fry strips and "tenderloin" packages. Those are products that a consumer can buy at 5:00 p.m. and have ready for dinner by 6:00 p.m.

What does the consumer value? It depends on the consumer. That's why identifying the consumer first, then learning the consumer's wants and needs is critical. Just as understanding how your pork operation fits into the big picture is critical. It is perhaps the biggest responsibility yet to land on your plate, and it could be the most challenging one to swallow.

You, along with packers, processors, foodservice, distributors, inspectors and thousands of other people make up the food system.

Yet make no mistake, the food system begins and ends with the consumer. Consumers are laying down the rules, and each link in the food system will be responsible for responding.

Business is all about anticipating, recognizing, responding and committing to change. You have to do it and we have to do it. That's why Vance Publishing's Livestock Division – home of Pork, Swine Practitioner, Drovers, Dairy Herd Management, Bovine Veterinarian and Meat & Seafood Merchandising magazines – is now the Food System Group.

Of course it's more than a name change. There is a fundamental missing link in the food system, and that is communication. Our publications individually and jointly have embraced our role and yours in the food system – we are committed to helping you become a meal-solutions' provider. That doesn't mean we're abandoning the production, management and business aspects that you have to address on your operation everyday. Those things are all part of the food system. It does mean that we are going to give you that information and more.

We have established an advisory panel of experts from various aspects of the food system to provide insight and guidance. Each quarter we will publish an insert called the Food System Insider. It will run in all of our magazines and will illustrate how the food system is connected; how the pork, beef, dairy and retail grocery industries are evolving; and provide you with insight from other segments of the system. Also on page 8 of this issue, you'll find Pork's new food system column, Pork Quality Link.

What about future plans? We are committed to develop opportunities to provide more food system information to you and others within the chain.

The food systems' approach is about bridging gaps, identifying opportunities, looking for innovations and making the pie bigger vs. gaining a bigger piece of the pie.

You are part of the food system and that can be overwhelming, but it also can be rewarding. For those who approach the concept open mindedly, it will provide a long-term payoff.