Every few years, the National Pork Board’s elected Board of Directors attends an immersion trip to experience U.S. Pork abroad and to view the market in real-time so they can continue making the best decisions on behalf of fellow producers. 

The intent of immersion trips is to experience and learn how industries in other countries operate, specifically what opportunities are available, and identify solutions to challenges. Exposure to markets benefits U.S. production and helps the board make wise decisions on how best to utilize producers’ Pork Checkoff funds. 

Board member Dr. Gordon Spronk said the trip provided important insight to help the Board make strategic decisions.  

“The U.S. swine industry participates in a constantly changing, competitive global protein production industry,” he said. “We compete around the world in our efforts to meet consumer protein needs/demands. The Pork Checkoff mandates that the NPB is responsible for education, research and promotion of our industry. Therefore, it is important for NPB members to educate themselves by in-person visits to our global competitors and customers to better understand how to educate, direct research and promote our industry.”  

Spronk concluded, “My biggest takeaway – we have the potential to be the best swine production industry in the world, we just need to educate our producers on that opportunity.” 

European Union Immersion

NPB staff, board members, and a state pork association executive traveled across Denmark and the Netherlands last month to understand the EU swine industry firsthand. 

While abroad, the group understood how EU member states control and eliminate endemic swine diseases and learned about EU animal welfare practices, environmental regulations, sustainability, food safety and farm worker safety.  

They toured retail grocery and food service establishments to understand consumer food trends and sales and marketing approaches with various demographic and multicultural audiences. They also had opportunities to discuss EU pork production and economic and export market trends. 

“For pork production and marketing to be successful in the future, we need to unify the promotion and demand building by adding in the nutritional aspects of the meat, our farmers’ work to prevent and reduce disease levels and also the sustainability message we as producers are able to provide and control,” said Dale Stevermer, board member from Minnesota.  

Preventative FAD Measures in Denmark

Great effort has been put into preventing and mitigating foreign animal diseases (FAD) in the U.S. The country is not alone in the challenge of keeping African swine fever (ASF) at bay. The board was fascinated to visit Padborg, Denmark (located on the border of Denmark and Germany) to learn from the Danish industry about the risk of ASF being in Germany.  

The group toured a border fence between Germany and Denmark stretching approximately 62 kilometers (42 miles) and measuring 1.5 meters tall (approximately five feet) and 0.5 meters (approximately 20 inches) below the surface. The fence was constructed with 4 million Euros in government and industry funding in 2019 to keep wild boars and the risk of ASF out of the country. Representatives shared how Danish producers co-funded the border fence construction to keep out wild boars, yet still allowing humans and other migratory animals to pass through. 

Trip attendees tour the fence on the Danish-German border.

Next, the group toured a truck wash facility constructed by Danish producers as part of the preventative measures to keep the ASF virus out of their domestic herd, which is highly dependent on the export of live swine and pork. The truck wash was one of only three entry points for over 28,000 truckers per year that re-enter Denmark after delivering wean-age and feeder pigs to ASF-positive countries such as Poland and Germany.  

The board was able to view and understand how pigs are tracked through a system of trucks, including a quarantine period once the trucks are cleaned. This successful system has complied with the outlined rules for the country’s safety and to prevent ASF and other pathogens from returning.  

“When consensus is reached on an issue, and the appropriate knowledge is available, leadership can make real change for the good of everyone, the entire industry,” Spronk said. 

Business Decisions for the Future

The group toured and met with professionals at the Danish Crown, an internationally oriented Danish food company with butchery operations, processing and pork and beef sales. Danish Crown is a large importer of U.S. Pork and must pay the Pork Checkoff at $0.35 per $100 value of each pig. The group was impressed by the Danish Crown’s business model and attention to value instead of volume while targeting profitable segments within their market.  

“I was impressed with the transparency of Danish Crown. If you want to be part of the future, you need to be part of the solution,” said Rich Deaton, NPB board member from Ohio. 

The group also toured SEGES Innovation, an independent company focused on sustainable food production, and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council. They heard from multiple experts on current topics of interest at SEGES Innovation, including research and development, strategy for the Danish pig sector and DanBred genetic and breeding goals. The group was impressed by Denmark’s commitment to sustainability and scientifically based research in making business decisions.   

National Pork Board members in Denmark.

Modern Approach to Sustainable Practices

The group toured BioGas Horsens, a bio-digestion plant in Denmark, which takes 500 million tons of material and turns it into biogas. Biogas is a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane created by the bacterial decomposition of organic waste. The plant produces biogas from manure from local farmers and organic waste from food industries and then upgrades the biogas to natural gas on-site.  

About two-thirds of the material is manure, which is received from around 50 dairy and pig farms. The material is then taken back to the farm, and they spray the same material with a higher nitrogen value on the land. They plan to have all trucks run by pressed biogas, which is CO2 negative, by 2025. 

In addition, the group learned electricity is generated and heat is captured to heat 4,000 homes in the local town. The group was fascinated by this modern approach to manure management and sustainable practices and saw firsthand how the EU collectively views sustainability as a social responsibility to engage in.  

“There are a lot of similarities within the stewardship journey for both Danes and U.S., and it is an opportunity for us to share data and experiences to create alignment,” Stevermer said.  

Self-Sufficient Hog Farm

The last stop in Denmark was to Go’Gris sow farm. Established in 2008, Go’Gris is a self-sufficient hog farm with 1,000 sows, marketing 32,000 pigs annually. In addition, 970 hectares (approximately 2,400 acres) of arable land are managed with rapeseed, seeds and grain to be 100 percent self-sufficient in feed for their pig production. The board observed the high body condition of sows at this farm and their ability to farrow an average of 20 liveborn piglets per litter. There is an opportunity for the industry to actively address sow housing from multiple levels, including what is best for the sow, what is best for food safety and the impact on the price of pork.  

Netherlands: Supply Chain Software for Sustainable Pork

The group’s first stop in the Netherlands involved the USDA-Foreign Agricultural Service, where they learned more about EU and German pig production from experts and met with the Pig Improvement Company based in Germany. During this trip, they also met with a swine research farm and Nutreco, a leading animal nutrition company emphasizing sustainability with several world-leading brands.  

On their last stop, the group toured Westfort Plant, a family-owned processing plant that specializes in pork. Four locations in the Netherlands process approximately 1,200 tons of pork products daily and up to 300,000 tons annually. The group toured the newest processing plant in IJsselstein. Chad Groves, a board member from Kansas, notes the modern packing plant technology and automation, declaring there is significantly less further processing but more segregation.  

National Pork Board members browsing pork products in the Netherlands. 

Industry Practices and Learnings

The U.S. pork industry believes that pork is an essential part of a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet; pig and crop farming are sustainable; and the ethical treatment of our people and animals is key to a resilient food system. However, research shows that if the industry doesn’t bring younger consumers into the category at a faster rate, annual consumption will decline by 2.2 lbs. over the next 10 years.1 

To combat a potential decrease in consumption, Illinois Board Member Pat Bane advises the U.S. industry needs to:  

  1. Secure our share of the market for the future by continued innovation and appeal to consumer sentiment such as animal care and carbon footprint; 
  1. Continue to complete research and educate consumers about the care and investment we put into our animals; and 
  1. Document and evaluate our low carbon footprint while reasonably and practically improving. 

NPB’s Board of Directors are elected leaders representing U.S. pig farmers with global relations and stakeholders to build trust in and add value to U.S. pork. This international trip was an important touchpoint, and the lessons and key takeaways will be used by each attendee on their farm and in their leadership position at NPB and state associations, representing 60,000+ U.S. pig farmers and making decisions using Pork Checkoff dollars.   

“As the National Pork Board, I believe we need to see the future coming and help U.S. pig farmers prepare,” said Al Wulfekuhle, NPB vice president from Iowa. “A trip like this is invaluable in assisting us in making wise decisions on how to best utilize producers’ Checkoff funds to best do this.”   

Note: Producers are encouraged to contact the Service Center with questions by emailing us at [email protected] or calling us at 1-800-456-7675 or 515-223-2600. Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST. 

1: NPB Checkoff Funded Proprietary Research, Circana, Consumer Value at Stake Study, 2023.