The room quieted down as Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio, began his final remarks as president of the National Pork Producers Council at the 2019 National Pork Industry Forum on Thursday.
“I have really enjoyed my time as president of NPPC, which does a lot of work to protect the livelihoods of pork producers,” Heimerl said.
The milestones Heimerl and his team reached during his term are admirable, but Jen Sorenson of Iowa Select Farms, a member of the NPPC Board of Directors, believes the example he set as a leader will be his greatest achievement. She credits the experience he brought as owner/operator of Heimerl Farms – leadership of the organization, accountability, adaptability and the desire to always do the right thing – for his ability to lead SIP investors and the U.S. pork industry so well.
“He’s a tremendous leader, pushing all of us and showing great courage and leadership through the many challenges we faced this year,” Sorenson said. “He is passionate about the business and personally invested much of him time and energy working to resolve trade issues. He also took the lead on securing a FMD vaccine bank in the farm bill, amongst the many day-to-day obstacles we faced.”
Through coalitions, phone calls and visits to lawmakers’ offices, comments on federal regulations, letters and testimony to Congress, information to reporters and countless meetings, NPPC advocates for pork producers. Heimerl highlighted some of NPPC’s contributions in the past year.
The farm bill topped Heimerl’s list of 2018 achievements. Pork producers usually don’t ask for much in the farm bill, but in 2018 they put forth a big ask and ended up getting most of what they asked for, he said. From mandatory funding for foreign animal disease prevention and preparedness to funding for USDA’s agricultural export promotion programs, the 2018 farm bill was a major accomplishment.
“What’s really important is these funds are mandatory and permanent, meaning we will have a baseline when the next farm bill is negotiated,” he says.
Support for Livestock Haulers
NPPC worked with U.S. Department of Transportation to give livestock haulers a waiver from a mandate to use Electronic Logging Devices. They also achieved some flexibility in the federal Hours of Service rules, so livestock haulers can deliver animals safely.
“We’ll continue to work that issue, pushing for revisions to trucking regulations so livestock haulers can comply with the rules while maintaining the industry’s high standards for animal welfare,” Heimerl said.
Finding and maintaining a steady workforce was another top concern for NPPC last year, Heimerl said. In April, they released a study from Iowa State University on the agricultural workforce.
The study determined that a reduction in the foreign-born workforce would not be offset by native-born workers and permanent residents. Because of this, NPPC made some progress in urging lawmakers to make changes to the visa system so they could have access to a reliable workforce.
NPPC also served on the steering committee of the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, collaborating with USDA on potential regulatory solutions to the livestock sector’s labor issues.
Science and Technology Advancements
Lab-grown meat dotted the headlines of mainstream media last year. NPPC helped convince USDA to take an oversight role on production of laboratory-produced cultured protein derived from livestock and poultry cells.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wanted sole regulatory authority over it, and that would have been bad for us,” he said.
They also tackled issues such as reauthorizing animal drug approval laws, gene editing in livestock, the Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection rule and of course, helping prevent African swine fever from getting into the U.S. hog herd.
NPPC continued its efforts to dismantle regulations that are detrimental to the U.S. pork industry.
“We got Congress to approve legislation exempting livestock farmers from reporting routine emissions from their farms and urged EPA to propose a rule exempting farmers from a related emissions reporting mandate,” he said.
The organization also helped lead the charge against the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule and collaborated with EPA on a new, workable WOTUS rule, which it proposed in December.
Trade and Tariffs
A topic at the forefront of pork producers’ minds, NPPC continues to work diligently to remove retaliatory tariffs and increase trade opportunities.
“The Trump administration’s efforts to realign U.S. trade policy caused our industry some financial pain, and we made sure the White House knew about that,” Heimerl said. “And they listened.”
In August, USDA gave producers some relief from the effects of retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and Mexico.
NPPC also urged the administration to keep the favorable terms won by U.S. agriculture in the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in a renegotiated deal, including access for U.S. pork without tariffs. And although it’s not finalized yet, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement also has duty-free access for U.S. pork thanks to NPPC efforts.
These are just a few of the many achievements Heimerl discussed during his final remarks. He concluded with a clear directive to the pork industry.
“Please make your voices heard in Washington, in your state capital and in your community,” Heimerl said. “Please tell your story about what you do, why you do it and that you do the right thing every day on your farm.”
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