Editor’s Note: In this third installment of the March cover story about Neil Dierks, he shares his thoughts on what’s most important to him from an industry viewpoint.
Trade: “This is the first time in my career we’ve had to play defense on trade. In 1995 we were net importers of pork, and now as a country, we’re the world’s single largest exporter of pork. Twenty-seven percent is a lot of our market. Think of what the pressure would be if we didn’t have exports for the people in the industry? That’s why we’re so concerned about this whole tariff situation. China putting an additional 25 percent duty on U.S. pork will have a negative effect on our exports and our producers. But we’re hopeful the Trump administration will resolve the trade issues with the Chinese, just as it did with South Korea. We’re also confident it will successfully conclude the NAFTA renegotiations. That said, NPPC isn’t sitting idle; we’re looking for new markets to sell pork, and we’ve recently opened a new one through an export certificate with Paraguay. We’re also close on getting into Argentina and Jamaica. Those aren’t huge markets, but every little bit helps.”
What keeps him up at night: “If we get a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, our export markets close immediately. It’s important that we get all we’ve asked for on the vaccine bank, which is $150 million per year for five years.”
NPPC: “When you’re voluntarily funded, it brings clarity to focus—we have limited resources so the right things have to be worked on. I take pride in the recognition that people say nice things about NPPC. I’m most proud of where we are today versus where we were in 2002. I really have been blessed.”
Producers: “If I had to come up with a word for pork producers, I would say it is resolve. Pork producers have the ability to work to resolve whatever they’re confronted with. If producers have the accurate and complete information, they make phenomenal decisions. When they’re presented with a problem, it doesn’t occur to them to get out—they’re looking for solutions. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it takes a while, but they have resolve, and I say that with the highest of praise.”
Favorite things: “One of my favorite things is to get out in the country and talk to producers. That’s the joy of the job and even when people ask tough questions, that’s fine. People are good thinkers; they tend to be humble and they’re smart and articulate.”
The internet: “We’re awash in information with no understanding. This is my big concern about the internet. Publications have standards for journalism. On the internet you can say whatever you want. A lot of people don’t understand those filters that society had in place. Technology is great but one of the ramifications is that society is still trying to figure it out.”