Donna Reifschneider is a past president of the National Pork Producers Council. She and her husband run a 600-sow, farrow-to-wean operation near Smithton, Ill.

Q What are the main benefits that the National Checkoff Program offers pork producers?

A The checkoff’s greatest achievements, beyond the research and producer education opportunities it has funded, has been to reverse the decline in U.S. pork consumption and reposition pork in consumers’ minds as a wholesome, lean product.
From 1979 to 1985, pork consumption fell dramatically. With the “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign, which 85 percent of Americans now recognize, that trend has been reversed.

In 1980, America was a net pork importer. Because of checkoff-funded programs, we will export a record 1.2 billion pounds of pork this year. The checkoff also has increased pork usage in restaurants by 17 percent. This is important because 54 percent of all pork is eaten away from home.

All pork producers invest in the checkoff and they all share in the information and programming it provides. Thousands of pork producers, at the local, state and national levels, work each year to decide how their money is spent.

Q What should producers expect a checkoff program to accomplish?

A The pork checkoff was created to expand the market for pork, create opportunity for producers and provide producers a unified voice. By all producers working together to shoulder the burden, we have repositioned pork in consumers’ minds and are providing tools for producers to take advantage of opportunities.

Q How has the checkoff evolved and why?

A In 1968, pork producers launched “Nickels for Profit,” a voluntary checkoff program to help address common industry issues. However, it was costly to administer and over time, the unequal participation factor created concerns. In 1985, with chicken consumption soaring, pork producers successfully pressed for congressional approval of the legislative checkoff, understanding the need to raise funds equitably to keep our product competitive with other protein-based commodities. The checkoff has succeeded in building demand, addressing challenges and creating opportunities for producers.

A recent congressionally mandated study by Texas A&M University confirms that the checkoff creates a positive return on investment. For every dollar a producer invests, he or she derives at least $4.79 in direct cash benefits. In some cases, the return is as high as $26.19 per dollar invested.

Q How much have you spent or plan to spend on the pro-checkoff campaign?

A Checkoff dollars cannot and will not be spent to influence the outcome of the vote. Any information that contains the pro-checkoff message must and will be funded by non-checkoff or unrestricted dollars. We will work with the state organizations to inform producers about the results the checkoff has delivered in programs like “Pork. The Other White Meat,” export market development, production education and research.

The Pro-Checkoff Task Force will make every effort to balance the information distributed by those opposing the national checkoff.

Q What happens if the vote ends the National Checkoff Program?

A Simply stated all programs funded by the producer checkoff will be terminated. According to the proposed rules from USDA, collection would cease within 30 days.

If the pork checkoff ends, producers will no longer have initiatives like “Pork. The Other White Meat” to build demand, no longer have research addressing production issues like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, no longer have a unified voice to counterbalance anti-meat activists. Producers and our hard-fought industry gains would be at risk, resulting in chaos.

Someone will do the research and promotion, but their efforts will be kept proprietary. That means some producers will have a huge upper hand and others will be left behind. My concern is that independent producers like myself will be at the greatest risk.

Q What is your final take-home message to producers?

A It is critical that producers get informed and understand what the checkoff has done for them. I want to encourage all pork producers to vote. Pork producers need to make the decision about our future, not let that decision be made for us.

I want to continue to raise hogs and I know the only way that it can happen is to continue to increase demand and consumption.

I urge you to vote, and to vote to continue the pork checkoff.