DES MOINES, Iowa — As he steps away from the job of CEO of the National Pork Producers Council, Neil Dierks has advice for the organization and the industry for whom he has been a champion and a voice for three decades.
“It’s the old classic — forward, always forward,” Dierks said.
While Dierks acknowledged that the industry faces some significant challenges — from the threat of African swine fever moving ever closer to North America to environmental concerns and trade and export market snags — he said he believes that U.S. swine farmers and industry professionals are ready and able to take on and deal with those hurdles.
“When you look at the base kinds of things, the attitudes, the approach, I’m optimistic for the industry. As we go forward, there will be problems, no doubt. But I have got a lot of faith in the people who are in the industry, in this organization, that those problems will be addressed properly,” he said.
Dierks expressed pride in the organization that he helped build from the ground up.
He joined NPPC in 1990. In 2001, a court settlement split the National Pork Board from the NPPC. The settlement ordered that the NPB and NPPC have separate staffs and offices. The settlement also ended NPPC receiving checkoff funds.
Dierks was already on the NPPC staff, having previously worked in the newspaper industry, for Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Corn Growers Association.
“We started at ground zero. We didn’t have money. After the split, we had very little resources and very few human resources. That brought clarity of vision and clarity of focus and I am very, very pleased with where NPPC sits today. I am particularly proud of our focus toward legislation and regulation, trade policy and the freedom to operate for producers,” he said.
Dierks emphasized that challenges in the industry will remain, regardless of who has control of the federal government.
“There are always challenges and you have to respond to them and you have to be as aggressive as possible,” he said.
He also pointed out that activists will continue to pose a challenge to the industry on many fronts. In 2018, California voters passed Proposition 12, a ballot initiative that mandates certain space requirements for animals raised for meat and eggs. Two years earlier, in 2016, Massachusetts passed Question 3, a ballot initiative with similar restrictions.
Both Proposition 12 and Question 3 also prohibit the sale of meat and eggs from animals raised in situations that do not meet the space requirements.
“I think there are big issues ahead for the industry, one of which is the continual drumbeat of activists that don’t necessarily have to be honest and truthful with science. There will always be that push-pull going back and forth. Those activists are a very small part of the population, but they will continue to be there,” Dierks said.
With sustainability being a popular term throughout the agriculture industry right now, Dierks highlighted what he sees as one of the more overlooked stories in U.S. pork production — the sustainability aspect of the modern pork production system that produces manure to fertilizer the corn and soybeans that are fed back to hogs.
“That model of recycling nutrients through crops that, in turn, produce feed that, in turn, can produce hogs that produce pork, and then those nutrients get returned to the soil. That’s a very sustainable model. And, boy, that is something that gets lost on some people,” he said.
NPPC announced on Dec. 1 that Bryan Humphreys, a senior vice president for National Pork Board, was hired as the new CEO. Humphreys, took over as CEO of the NPPC on Dec. 21.