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Pork producers resilient

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Oct 12th, 2012
Posted in All Agriculture

By Kirsten Zoellner

It’s no secret that this summer and fall have been rough ones for our local farmers. The effects of this summer’s drought has led to high feed prices which in turn has led to some livestock producers having to sell and slaughter earlier than normal simply to get those animals off feed. The sudden oversupply in the market has lowered prices and landed many in tight spot. Still, there are some bright spots out there, and as local pork producer Craig Mensink has said, “Pork Producers are a resilient bunch. Most figure out a way to survive the rough times to enjoy the better times.”

Here in Fillmore County, Mensink believes producers are fortunate to have availability to feed, even if it is at a higher price, as some parts of the country struggle over feed shortages. Production operations may shift, but it’s not likely that many with simply throw in the towel. “There has been some consolidation of the pork business in Fillmore County, as some that have previously owned and raised their own pigs are now custom raising for other producers,” notes Mensink. “Some that had been doing that, are now raising their own pigs,” he continues. “To me, this is a sign that farmers around here still enjoy raising and caring for livestock in Fillmore County.”

Along with his wife, Pam, Craig Mensink is the owner and operator of Mensink Pork in Preston, a feeder to finish operation that markets 9,000 hogs annually. They were selected as Minnesota’s Farm Family of Fillmore County last year. Craig is also the current president of Riverdale, a 3,000 sow unit, begun in 1996, and owned by him and nine other, guaranteeing a single source of hogs for their operations. He is also an active advocate for the industry serving on the National Pork Board Finance Committee, Minnesota Pork Board Promotion and Image Committee, and as the director of Fillmore County’s Pork Board. In addition, he serves on the Pork Checkoff Domestic Marketing Committee, Resolutions/Advisements Committee, Retail Advisory Committee, Foodservice Advisory Committee, and Plan of Work Task Force.

Mensink is optimistic about the future of the industry, especially right here in Minnesota and Fillmore County. Annually, it contributes 22,000 jobs and over $8 billion to Minnesota’s thriving economy. He acknowledges that producers recognized the downtrend approaching. To maximize the outcome, the national board budgeted additional funds towards its new “Pork Be Inspired” campaign, as well as funding more dollars into foreign markets. According to Mensink, 27 percent of pork production currently goes into foreign markets. “This is huge,” he insists, “These markets are returning almost $60 more per head for America’s pork producers that were not there just 20 years ago.”

While he stresses that every producer is different, he does acknowledge that it’s been a difficult year thus far. “I have been in the pig business since 1972, and cannot remember such a large spread over just one year. For us, 2012 has been quite a rollercoaster. We went from making $8-10 per head in the first quarter and $25-30 per head profit in the second quarter, to losing $30-50 per head in August through September. The rest of the year we will be selling at a loss, but not as bad as the third quarter,” he notes. “The light at the end of the tunnel is we can lock in some profits for 2013.”

Other bright spots for pork producers have been further shifts in sustainability, herd care and management, as well as new technology and tools available. In Fillmore County, most producers are Producer Quality Assurance Trucker Quality Assurance Certified every three years through classes. “This is to assure our consumers that we are raising our livestock in a safe, healthy, and humane way,” notes Mensink. “We as producers have also signed on to the WE CARE policy that the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council implemented in 2008. We care about producing safe and nutritious food for your family, about protecting and promoting the well-being of our animals, about protecting the public health through all of our production practices, about providing a safe workplace for our employees, about making our community a better place to live, and about safeguarding our environment and the land all our families live on,” he adds.

Changes in the relationship between Americans and a sincere desire to know where their food is coming from have also bolstered the pork industry. Last year, Mensink, and his wife Pam, had the opportunity to participate in the Provider Pals program, which places a pork producer in a metro school district to teach and tell kids the story of where their food comes from. The Mensinks were placed with Humboldt High School in St. Paul where they did a correspondence with six different classes throughout the spring, followed up by an in-person presentation this past May. “It was very worthwhile,” says Mensink, who has already signed up with another school for next spring.

“As a producer, I would like to thank all the meat retailers that so often the last couple years have featured pork and to all our loyal consumers, who know what a nutritious, wholesome, lean, and tasty product we offer for them to enjoy,” he enthuses. “We also need to thank the pork producers of Fillmore County for providing a great product, not only for sale, but also for stocking it in the local food shelves of Fillmore County. It is a community thing and we feel as producers is very important and will continue it.”

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