In 1965, when the Moline 90 laid the groundwork for what would become the National Pork Producers Council, those innovative producers were forging a new and uncharted course. No one could predict what awaited them; how their fellow producers would respond; what would work and what wouldn't.
Only in hindsight does the wisdom and sophistication of those leaders and their decisions shine through.
As we all know, the controversy swirling around the national pork checkoff has set the industry on a new course.
With NPPC and the National Pork Board split off into two separate directions, it appears on the surface that their road will be smoother than the one the Moline 90 faced.
It's true that both organizations can benefit from the programs, leadership and experiences generated from the past, but navigating through a dramatically changing industry won't be easy. Today's industry is more diverse than in any time previously, and managing this split ranks among the industry's more significant challenges for the years ahead.
The greatest task that the two organizations face is to build producers' knowledge of their roles and responsibilities. I'm not convinced that the average industry participant understands – or accepts – the fact that NPPC and NPB are separate entities.
So, let's refresh that message. It is important to know that NPB and NPPC run separate offices with separate staffs. NPB receives national pork checkoff funds; NPPC does not. NPB programs and projects can only address research, education and promotion. NPPC tackles legislative, regulatory, public policy and advocacy issues for the pork industry.
Maintaining this perspective will be an on-going challenge with real-world consequences. Suppose a producer doesn't like one organization's programs or activities, the other organization could pay the price.
For example, if a producer doesn't agree with NPPC's position on packer livestock ownership, he or she could decide to lobby against the national pork checkoff.
Of course, one has nothing to do with the other, but for so many years NPPC was the pork industry's king pin, providing programs, promotion, research and legislative support. Since its inception in 1986, the National Pork Board worked primarily in the background.
A critical point is the fact that USDA will survey U.S. pork producers in 2003 to determine whether another referendum vote on the national checkoff is needed. This does not give either organization much time to establish their identities in the minds and hearts of producers.
The creation of NPPC's new, voluntary "checkoff" and membership program – while unquestionably needed – could add to the confusion.
First and foremost, the funding program should carry some other name than "checkoff." The industry can't afford to mix signals in that area.
Who is eligible for membership; how do I become a member; why doesn't my checkoff deduction automatically make me a member; and which members will you "listen" to – will all be questions and challenges that NPPC will have to address.
There was generally a good feeling at last month's Pork Forum that the industry remains unified in the face of past turmoil. But good feelings feed off of each other when you have an opportunity to listen to debate and discuss issues with like-minded peers. But not every pork producer attended Pork Forum; and not everyone carries the same understanding, insight or perspective.
Success lies within both organizations' abilities to communicate openly and honestly with the industry. They must really listen to producers and industry participants, and not charge ahead with an "I-know-best" attitude.
The leadership and staff of these organizations have to think innovatively – just as the Moline 90 did nearly 40 years ago. The NPPC/NPB split requires a different culture. In times of change it's tempting to reach for the familiar, but both organizations need to take this opportunity to set a fresh course.