A new year brings with it the promise of starting fresh. This year, everyone in the pork industry could use some relief from the harrowing fall we just exited.

Even in good years, January is a tough month to work through. The short days and bitter cold create a sense of isolation. This year’s prospect of continued burdensome hog slaughter and low prices only adds to that feeling.

While you are the first and most severely affected by the current markets, you are not alone. The impact will domino through the entire pork chain.

But just as you are not alone in feeling the pain, you are not alone in looking for a solution. Certainly, unique to business today is the fact that so many sectors rally around to try to assist agriculture. I understand this may be contradictory to what you’re feeling, but look at what others are doing to help find solutions for your business.

At the heart of activity is the National Pork Producers Council and its state affiliates, and well they should be. After all, those groups only exist to serve you and the industry. I’m not going to hit on all of NPPC’s activities, just a few of the recent ones.

  • I’ve heard some criticism lately that NPPC’s pork advertising and promotional efforts have benefitted retailers and not producers. Retailers are making money now, but try selling the pork from more than 2 million hogs a week without NPPC’s programs. U.S. pork export sales for 1998 were up more than 30 percent from 1997. Last year’s U.S. consumption increased 8 percent, as retail prices held steady. The beef is with retailers, not NPPC.
  • NPPC has asked the government to increase pork purchases for federal food aid programs beyond the $50 million it bought in late November.
  • Since most of you will face equity or cash flow problems this year, NPPC is suggesting that all federal banking and financial institutions be urged to work with you, and grant credit forbearance. 
  • Expand the government’s Emergency Disaster Loan Guarantee Program to  include pork production.
  • NPPC is working to halt Canada’s influx of live hogs into the U.S. market. Meanwhile, Canada has opened its doors to U.S. market hogs. 
  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service is taking a hard line on illegal aliens in the United States. It has its sights set on the pork packing industry. NPPC has offered to help find a solution but is asking for a reprieve ù now is not the time to disrupt slaughter capacity.

The government is lending a hand.

  • It passed the Tax and Trade Relief Extension act of 1998, which lets you “carry back” a net operating loss for up to five years. Ask your tax consultant about this and other options.
  • Income averaging is now a permanent provision for farmers only. It lets you average income for tax years beginning with 1997.
  • Several states have or plan to hold hearings on pork market issues. Your state and federal lawmakers need to hear from you now more than ever.

Helping you find answers is why land-grant universities, extension and industry publications exist in the first place. You can add allied industry to that list as well. 

  • One feed company purchased and distributed tons of hams this holiday season to spread goodwill and to help pull pork off the market.
  • A genetics company is selling gilts at market cost plus delivery; breeding boars and artificial insemination semen are both available at sharp discounts. Why? Because the company knows if you don’t exist, it doesn’t.
  • Word is that some animal health companies are considering other types of cost-relief programs. Ask your supplier what he or she can do for you.
  • Most packers are running double shifts and Saturday lines. Physical restrictions and labor shortages keep many packers from slaughtering more hogs. Capacity is 1.9 hogs million a week; for more than a dozen weeks, the runs have exceeded 2 million.

The United States can sell more hogs and pork at reasonable prices, if packing and processing capacity grows. But that won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen without industry and government support.

There is comfort in knowing you’re not alone. There’s also comfort in the prospect that others are working to help your business long term. Naturally, you have to find solutions as well, and that means approaching vendors, lenders and asking for help.

The industry needs some stabilization, but reacting too harshly too quickly isn’t the answer. Working together is at least part of it.