Farm Horizons, April 2014

Dassel farmer represents the pork industry on state, national level

By Kristen Miller

In his second term as president of the Minnesota Pork Board, Pat FitzSimmons, a pork producer from Dassel, served as a delegate to the National Pork Industry Forum March 6-8 in Kansas City, MO.

FitzSimmons was appointed as a delegate by the US Secretary of Agriculture.

“It was important to me to represent pork producers from across the US as a Pork Act delegate,” said FitzSimmons. “As an industry, when we stand united and work toward a common goal we can yield positive results for pork producers.”

FitzSimmons was one of 156 delegates who traveled from across the country to represent pork producers and importers who sell pork products in the United States. The duties of a delegate include nominating members to serve on the National Pork Board; establishing how much of the Pork Checkoff is returned to state pork organizations; and providing direction on pork promotion, research and consumer information priorities funded by the Pork Checkoff.

America’s pork producers contribute 40 cents of every $100 of sales to the checkoff, and importers use a sales formula to contribute a similar amount. The role of the Pork Checkoff is to promote and enhance consumer demand for pork on a global basis; invest in research designed to improve production practices and safeguard the pork supply, environment, and animal well-being; and educate America’s pig farmers on modern livestock production practices through sharing techniques, training, and certification programs.

This is FitzSimmons’ second year as president of the state board with a total of five years on the board. He has also served for five years, including as president, on the Minnesota Pork Association, a voluntary checkoff system that gives 10 cents of every $100 to the checkoff system.

A farmer for basically all of his life, FitzSimmons and his wife, Marie, moved to Dassel in 1985, and operate a 1,600-sow production, including a family operation in southern Minnesota.

In addition, his family operates Protein Services, a management service based in Mapleton.

In addition to his involvement on the state board, FitzSimmons has served for 25 years at the local level for Wright County Pork Producers.

“My dad taught me you have to be involved . . . you can’t leave it up to anybody else,” FitzSimmons said, adding that “Somebody has to be on [the board] to represent the pork industry.”

Because it is ranked as one of the top leaders for pork production, second only behind Iowa, Minnesota is allowed a delegate, in this case FitzSimmons, to represent the state at the National Pork Forum. “We have quite a bit of clout at the national level,” he commented.

Issues the pork industry is facing; consumers to see increase in pork costs

With the money generated from the Pork Checkoff, the pork board is spending quite a bit to fund research on developing a vaccine to combat a disease that is killing piglets, FitzSimmons explained.

The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PED) attacks the intestines of piglets and can kill all within a five-week production in a sow herd, until it develops immunity, explained FitzSimmons.

Nationally, 6 million head have been lost due to PED, which has put “quite a burden on the pork industry,” he noted. “In turn, consumers can expect to pay more for pork this summer.”

He explained that PED was first detected in Europe and Asia, but only last year was found on the east coast in North Carolina. Since then, it has traveled across the southern states, and showed up in Minnesota in December.

FitzSimmons assured that there is no carryover to the meat.

The pork board initially spent money on a tool that would allow producers to diagnose the virus sooner, however there is currently no vaccine.

Education is key

The pork board continues to educate the consumers on the benefits of pork, and continually struggles with animal rights groups “telling us the best way to raise our pork,” FitzSimmons commented.

He also noted that Minnesota is unique in that the majority of its pork operations are family-owned and operated, with five or six operations in the top 25 in the nation.

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