By Allison Zabel

The Nebraska Pork Leadership group met at the end of July for its third seminar and had a full agenda. On the first day, we met at the Nebraska Pork Producers Association office in Lincoln. Our first meeting was with Steve Martin, executive director Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN). He discussed with us what the vision of AFAN was: to build relationships with our state organizations in specific species, for example the NPPA. This organization was created to provide economic development, production and education help. They helped put on the Swine Summit at Northeast Community College in July alongside Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Northeast Community College and the NPPA. The event covered expansion in the swine industry, agriculture’s economic outlook and resources for building.

Next, we met with Trent Loos, a producer and advocate for agriculture. We discussed with him the challenges around labor force and sustainability. He said that the way to be a good advocate is to be a good listener. We are the experts in our own experiences and we need to share that. Bryce Doeschot from the Nebraska Rural Radio Association spoke to us about about agriculture broadcasting, offered media training, and gave us great tips on how to speak with the media. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture joined us in talking about specific areas of their work. Jacy Spencer, an agriculture promotion coordinator, talked to us about her work on the Swine Summit, Livestock Friendly Counties and the importance of the Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix. Angel Velitchkov, talked to us about the impact exports have on Nebraska agriculture. The state is directly affected by these trade agreements. We are the number one producer of red meat and popcorn. It’s important that our elected officials keep trade agreements on all agendas. Angel said it best: “bottom line is people got to eat and we do food.” That wrapped up our meetings for Day One and we headed east to Des Moines for the next day’s activities.

On Day Two, we met at the National Pork Board (NPB) office. We met with several of the folks that work on behalf of the industry to cover the U.S. pork producers. Bill Winkelman, the NPB’s vice president of industry relations, gave a high-level overview of the National Pork Board and how checkoff dollars are utilized. He discussed the difference between the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council. Next, we discussed “Eat Dinner at Home in America.” Jarrod Sutton showed us the domestic marketing team initiatives, working to make pork the number one consumed meat in the U.S. and the world. From domestic marketing to foreign trade, Norman Beesac, shared the importance of exports on a national level. The number one export market for the United States is Mexico but exports to Japan bring in the highest value. The U.S. is currently at a 7 percent disadvantage going into Japan. Norman couldn’t stress enough that we need a free trade agreement with Japan. Our industry needs fair and equitable trade agreements. We even discussed markets that are emerging and developing. China, the European Union, Russia and Vietnam have been affected by African swine fever and that is impacting the pork industry in more ways than one.

We got the great pleasure of learning how to understand and lead Hispanic employees. Silvia Castenada from human resources at Eichelberger Farms, presented to us the myths, values and tips for creating a

great working relationship. Sixteen percent of the U.S. workforce is Hispanic/Latino and of that workforce 43 percent of them work in farming. They comprise a large population of the pork industry labor force.

Dr. Patrick Webb, gave us a detailed presentation about African swine fever and what our customs agents do to protect our country by preventing items coming into the country illegally. He explained to us what the World Animal Health Organization does to coordinate, support and promote animal disease control. Our meeting concluded with Kevin Waetke, talking about communication and how to manage a crisis. He shared with us how communication has changed and what it is like today.

The Nebraska Pork Leadership group had two full days of engaging and thought-provoking conversations. We came out of our meetings with more insight on topics, burning questions to do more research on, and how to create new networks. We are halfway through this program and I think I speak for all four of us when I say that this opportunity has been great. I know we are all excited for the rest of this journey.