Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson was one of several state farm bureau presidents who recently met with US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appeal for assistance for the nation's struggling pork producers.
The National Pork Producers Council estimates U.S. hog farmers may lose $1.25 billion during the 8-month period between April and the end of the year - due in large part to miscommunication and misperceptions surrounding the H1N1 flu outbreak. On April 24, the H1N1 flu first made international headlines and was mislabeled "swine flu." Several foreign countries have banned U.S. pork imports. Producers have been further hurt financially by skyrocketing input costs.
Nelson, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, and state farm bureau presidents from other leading pork-producing states talked with USDA Secretary Vilsack on Friday about four potential approaches to help struggling pork producers:
- Stimulating demand by increasing government purchases of pork for school lunch programs and other institutional uses such as federal prisons.
- Restructuring of loans for producers to potentially include lower interest rates, longer repayment terms and reduced or waived loan application fees.
- Working with the Chinese government to lift that country's ban on U.S. pork imports.
- Developing a communications campaign to educate U.S. consumers and the news media that H1N1 flu cannot be contracted by eating pork; is not spread by hogs; and that continuing to call the disease "swine flu" is proving to be financially devastating to hog farmers.
"The meeting was a success from the standpoint that it enabled us to share with the Secretary of Agriculture a number of our concerns related to the pork crisis," notes Nelson. "He was receptive and willing to look into the questions we asked him on the various issues - potentially as early next week."
Vilsack is scheduled to visit China this fall. Reopening that market for U.S. pork imports is expected to be among the items on the agenda.
Illinois ranks 4th in the nation for pork production. Pork typically contributes $1.7 billion annually to the state's economy; generates more than $136 million in taxes and supports 18,500 jobs in the state. Nationwide, the pork industry supports 800,000 jobs.