It’s no surprise beef prices are on the rise, and while that may not be good for consumers, it’s a benefit to the nation’s pork producers.
With beef prices at near-record highs, shoppers are turning their attention toward alternative proteins. Because of this, the demand for pork is also on the rise.
“Demand is strong, and I think that’s because pork is a good product,” said Scott Spilker. Spilker, of Beatrice, is the current president of the Nebraska Pork Producers. “Pork is tasty and nutritious. Everyone likes bacon. Bacon is getting put on almost everything...There’s a wide variety of pork products. You cook ribs, and everyone likes that. Pork chops work good for tailgating. Ground pork can be used as a replacement for ground beef. We basically own breakfast with ham, bacon and sausage.”
Spilker said the spike in beef prices can be attributed to severe droughts in 2012 that greatly diminished beef herds in the South.
“Especially in Texas and Oklahoma, a lot of cow herds got cut way down because there just wasn’t any grass or hay to feed them,” he explained.
The pork industry has had its problems, too. According to Brian Zimmerman, roughly 10 percent of the nation’s pork supply -- an estimated 8-10 million hogs -- was killed by Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus. Zimmmerman, a Beatrice producer, serves as chair of the Pork Checkoff’s Trade Committee. Spread through the milk of a sow, PEDV infects the lining of the small intestine of pigs causing severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Fortunately, Spilker said, the effects of PEDV were minimal in Nebraska as compared to other states.
“Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas got hit much more severe,” he said. “It might be a little bit of a testament to our good biosecurity that we have in Nebraska. We’re a little bit more spread out. There’s a little more land mass. In Iowa, hogs are more concentrated. We have a more spread-out operation. If an operation does break with the virus, it’s more difficult to transmit it.”
Spilker said biosecurity is of the utmost importance to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska Pork Producers.
“The USDA has stepped up with grants to the states,” he explained. “Nebraska is hiring a veterinarian just to work on this with that grant money. The Nebraska Pork Producers are encouraging people to develop a herd plan. We’re offering producers $100 to develop a herd plan. If you were to get the virus, you would have steps already in place to minimize the impact.”
All in all, the pork industry nationwide is strong. According to Zimmerman, the Cornhusker State is near the top of the pack in terms of pork production.
“Last I recall, Nebraska is number six in the nation as far as production numbers go,” he said. “We’ve always been near the top. We’ve actually dropped a notch or two. A couple of years ago, we were number five.”
As the next president of the Nebraska Pork Producers, Spilker said his goal is to work with packing plants in Nebraska to grow the State’s pork industry.
“We’ve got three major packers,” he said. “We’ve got Farmland here in Crete. We’ve got Hormel in Fremont, and in Madison, it’s Tyson. With the close proximity to the packing plants and an abundant corn supply, I would want more people to be open to livestock expansion.”