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Minnesotans have top jobs with national pork groups

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/02/2013 11:03 AM

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DES MOINES — National Pork Producers Council president Randy Spronk says he and fellow Minnesotan Karen Richter, who is the new president of the National Pork Board, bring "a little Minnesota common sense" to the two organizations.

Spronk is from Edgerton, and Richter is from Montgomery.

It's the first time Minnesotans have been president of both national organizations at the same time. Karl Johnson and Don Buhl both served terms as president of the National Pork Producers Council.

"We're coming at them with both barrels loaded," Richter said. "It's a good day for Minnesota."

A few years ago Iowans Sam Carney and Tim Bierman were presidents of the groups at the same time, but it's rare to have two presidents from the same state.

"I'm excited to work with Randy," Richter said. "We have a long-time relationship through state activities and leadership. I'm looking forward to the year."

"Both Karen and I have been active in the pork producers for several decades," said Spronk in an interview at World Pork Expo, which is presented by NPPC. "You never know as you move up into national leadership when you'll get into leadership positions. Karen is on the Pork Checkoff side with promotion, research and education. I'm leading the lobbying side which fights for the producer's freedom to operate."

Spronk was elected NPPC president in March. Richter became president at the June 4 National Pork Board meeting in Des Moines. Both kept hectic schedules at World Pork Expo, which was last week on the Iowa State fairgrounds.

Richter's family home planting

Richter had hoped her husband, David, could be with her, but he was home finishing planting and helping seed business customers. He and daughter, Kate, surprised her at 6 p.m. June 5 and then he headed home early the next day.

"I sent him a text after the election," Richter said.

Richter said she represents all pork producers across the country.

"But you still build on the experience you have from back home," she said. "It's been a challenging year for crop and livestock producers. Many dairy producers lost their alfalfa stands. Farmers who grow crops are facing delayed planting and reduced yields. As a livestock producer, you worry about feed availability. We needed a good crop after last year, and I guess we didn't figure it would go quite to this extreme."

Many issues facing Pork Board

Richter said the National Pork Board deals with everything from production and animal health issues to feed availability, market prices and trade barriers. There is concern about Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus which has just recently been detected in Midwest herds.

"There are a lot of challenges from a lot of different avenues coming at producers," Richter said. "A few years ago who would have thought with the carcass prices we have now, that there would still be red ink. It's a definitely a changed market place. But as optimistic farmers that we are, we keep plugging on and working away at it and hoping for better days."

The National Pork Board rolled out its updated Pork Quality Assurance Plus at the expo. Richter has gone through the program for her renewal and has taken the test, which is a new component of the program.

"I really like the new format," Richter said.

Fighting for freedom to operate

One of the most important issues facing producers is external forces, such as activist groups. The groups are making steady progress on enacting legislation that affects pork producers, Spronk said.

"Consumers, retailers and producers should all have the ability to choose," Spronk said. "What really concerns me is that it may take us longer to get to the correct decision, but if we're patient and it's truly what the consumer wants, we'll end up with the best decision."

He said it would be tragic if by 2050 when the world's population is projected to be 9 billion, actions taken would increase hunger.

"We need to be cautious and careful when it comes to what the activists are saying and the impact it will have on food production in our country and the world," Spronk said.

Working on trade

Spronk said that NPPC typically doesn't comment on proposed sales like that of Smithfield Foods to Shuanghui, China's largest meat packer.

"But I think there is some clarity that we can add," Spronk said. "As a producer I know China is a very difficult country to access market to, and if this is a methodology that will allow more pork to go to China, it benefits all of us. Remember, this isn't a merger, it's a change of ownership."

NPPC continues to work on trade issues, Spronk said. Exports account for 25 percent of U.S. pork production with the country's industry exporting more than $6 billion worth of pork in 2012. He said exports added $56 to the price of each hog marketed. U.S. pork exports are responsible for 110,000 jobs in the swine industry. The top value export markets are Japan, Canada, Mexico and China.

NPPC is engaged in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

"Japan is our number one value export and economic analysis shows exports could double if the Trans Pacific Partnership is passed," Spronk said.

NPPC supports negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

"We support it provided that it's negotiated and implemented in a high standard agreement which has been central to all our prior free trade agreements," Spronk said. "The EU represents a tremendous market opportunity as the second largest consumer group behind China. It's a very important market if we can open it up to U.S. Pork producers."

Their farming operations

Richter and her family work together with another family to have a wean to finish operation. They also grow corn and soybeans and operate seed seed tender dealerships. Richter majored in agricultural business at the University of Minnesota-Waseca.Richter's son Brad, a student at South Central College in North Mankato, is completing his internship this summer. Daughter Kate works in the farming operation. Her husband, Kyle, works at a local bank, but helps as well.

Spronk is the managing partner for two family farm enterprises: Spronk Brothers III LLP is involved in pork production. Ranger Farms LLP is involved in crop production. The pork production enterprise markets 120,000 head annually. Spronk and his partners also raise corn and soybeans on 2,000 acres.