After attending a pork industry meeting, I typically like to turn my attention to a book or other non-industry-related topic as I venture home. But flying back from last month’s Pork Forum I found myself seated among a National Pork Producers Council staffer, a state association president and a young pork producer – who had not attended Forum.

Naturally it took only moments before we started talking about the pork industry and the developments from Forum. As the conversation turned to the checkoff, the young producer admitted he was skeptical of its worth. He was particularly frustrated following the recent turbulent market. What’s more, many of the producers back home feel the same way, he said.

The state president – a producer himself – stepped up to the plate. He explained some of the educational programs available, the advertising and export efforts, research funding and even how the checkoff works. The NPPC staffer and I offered our two-cents, but the bulk came from the producer president.

It made a difference. Our interest and interaction left a positive impression with the young producer. While he is not a member of the more vehement opposition, he is among the undecided voters.

Anyone soliciting any kind of votes will tell you that the undecided is the most valuable group. A classic example: It was the undecided voters in Minnesota that elected now Gov. Jesse Ventura.

NPPC polls show that 60 percent of U.S. pork producers support the legislative checkoff, 20 percent are against it and 20 percent are undecided. You won’t change the opposition’s mind, but you can influence the undecided.

Whether it’s right or wrong, there will be a national checkoff referendum this year – probably by late summer. (See articles in Pork Inc.) That means there are only four or five months to salvage funding for industry programs that I couldn’t even begin to list on this page.

Independent producers need to understand that they are exactly the ones with the most to lose if the checkoff ends. Smithfield Foods would certainly rather spend the millions of dollars it contributes to the national checkoff on its own programs and products. Other large pork producers would benefit by keeping that cash at home as well.

The whole point behind the legislative checkoff was to make everyone contribute equally. It has done that.

Yes the last 18 months have been rough, but the bottom would have dropped out a lot sooner had the 1985 Pork Act not expanded checkoff funds, which helped increase U.S. pork consumption and export sales.

Everywhere, we see those with technology surpass those without. We know that will only increase in the future. Without a legislated checkoff, the pork industry would not have the money to conduct research and distribute technology among all producers. The line between the haves and the have-nots would be even more severely drawn between operation sizes.

Some believe that voting against the checkoff will allow the industry to tweak a few points within the Pork Act and checkoff procedures. But make no mistake there can be only two outcomes:

1. The legislative pork checkoff will continue.

2. The legislative pork checkoff will end.

As the whole world moves forward, losing the legislative pork checkoff would be an enormous step backward for independent pork producers.

Why bother with pro-checkoff efforts if 60 percent of the producers support it? Because the second rule in any campaign is that disgruntled voters cast their ballots, while content voters or those believing they have a winning margin tend to stay home.

The checkoff message has to come from you. You have to hit the roads, visit with fellow producers and take advantage of opportunities like the one on the airplane.

The National Pork Board will have supporting evidence of checkoff’s value for you to use. But the most effective message will come from you.

A lot of producers have gone before you to create and build the checkoff. Now it’s your turn to step up.