U.S. pork producers were well received on Wednesday at a hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry, according to National Pork Producers Council President Doug Wolf.

The subcommittee held the hearing as part the 2012 Farm Bill preparations; previous hearings have been held to evaluate the beef and poultry industries. Wednesday’s hearing focused solely on the state of the U.S. pork industry. “They wanted to know what do they need to be looking at, what are our concerns and where do they need to head with policies,” Wolf said.

Feed availability lead Wolf’s comments. “Feed availability is a big concern—the physical availability of feed grains-- where we’re at this year. We’re already looking at challenges with planting intentions, trend-line yields and of course weather delays.”

Beyond the ethanol issue, it’s as much about the overall demand for grains, and the limited resources to produce enough grains, Wolf reminded the congressmen.  

Earlier this spring, NPPC and others approached USDA about releasing non-sensitive Conservation Reserve Program acres to go back into production. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has indicated that prospect is unlikely. The House subcommittee appeared to be more receptive to the idea, Wolf noted.

 “We wanted to raise awareness of the need for extra acres,” the Lancaster, Wis., producer said. “While those CRP acres wouldn’t produce trend yields, whether it’s involves another 3 million or 8 million acres, it would add to the overall supply and wee need to look at every option.”

Action on CRP acres is needed by fall in order for those acres to get into production for the 2012 growing season.

Discussions also centered on the proposed GIPSA rule of the Packers and Stockyards Act that would place significant new restrictions on production and marketing contracts in the livestock and poultry sectors. Julie Maschhoff, of The Maschhoffs, a large family pork production business headquartered in Carlyle, Ill., outlined how the proposed rule would impact her business. Rod Brennemann, chief executive officer of Seaboard Farms, represented the pork industry’s packer perspective.

As Wolf noted, “We outlined the pros and cons of the proposed rule; the committee members expressed support.” In general, the congressmen recognized the current proposal’s over-reach from the intentions outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill.

A public-comment period on the proposed GIPSA rule produced an estimated 80,000 comments, which USDA is reviewing. USDA also is required to do an economic analysis of the rule’s financial cost/benefit. In question is whether USDA to allow for a comment period following the economic assessment. Vilsack has said no. “Our request today was to allow industry participants to have a comment period on the economics,” Wolf added. There is no indication when USDA might present a final GIPSA rule.

Subcommittee members raised questions about the use of antibiotics in pork production. “We outlined why antibiotics were necessary, how we use them and important to have in our tool box,” Wolf said. “They were receptive to that.”

Another important topic involved exports and free-trade agreements, with the three industry representatives outlining the importance to current and future health of the U.S. pork industry. Of significance, on Wednesday the Obama Administration advanced technical discussions with Congress regarding the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement draft implementing bill and draft Statement of Administrative Action. That action will establish a pathway for Congress’ formal consideration of all three pending FTAs, Colombia, South Korea and Panama.

Regarding the state of the pork industry from a personal producer perspective, Wolf cited this week’s hog market declines. “There are a lot of concerns, but also some guarded optimism. Producers went from a position of profit to a $10-per-head loss in the futures market in the last few days,” Wolf noted. “We have opportunities in the three FTAs, which would provide additional markets. But right now, crop planting is a concern. Everyday that it rains or it’s cold, it reduces our yields and raises concerns for next year.”