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AMS administrator to meet with National Pork Board

Rayne Pegg, the new administrator of the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will meet with members of the National Pork Board on Nov. 9, the first day of the board's autumn meeting in Des Moines. AMS oversees the work of the National Pork Board.

Also during its three-day meeting, the board will give its final approval to the 2010 Plan of Work and Budget, review a new five-year strategic plan developed by a board-appointed producer task force, and discuss a proposal to develop a new brand position for The Other White Meat®.

Pegg's appointment to the AMS position was announced earlier this year by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. She had been deputy secretary of legislation and policy for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where she advised the department secretary and the governor's cabinet on legislative and policy issues. She also worked with growers and the public on issues such as invasive species, organic production, food safety, farmers markets, government oversight and trade barriers.

"This is a great opportunity for us to get acquainted and to help the new administrator better understand how the National Pork Board uses the Pork Checkoff to address issues of importance to US pork producers," said Tim Bierman, an Iowa pork producer who is president of the board. "It is especially important that we help her  understand how we're using the Checkoff right now to market pork to help producers get through the current economic crisis."

The board also will complete work on a budget that Bierman describes as looking "very different" from recent budgets. Because the Pork Checkoff is a percentage of producers' hog sales, National Pork Board revenues rise and fall with the prices producers receive at the market. He said the 2010 budget, once approved by the board and the USDA, is expected to be 26 percent smaller that what the board plans to spend in 2009, reflecting lower hog prices that are not expected to improve measureably until the second half of 2010.

The board's budget task force has recommended a plan that called for spending $46.2 million in 2010. Since that group met in September, revenue projections for 2010 have declined further, prompting a new budget target of $44.1 million, Bierman said. Board spending during 2009 will be approximately $59.4 million, he said.

"With a reduction of that size, it's obvious that many of the programs we have now either must be eliminated or scaled back," Bierman said. "As painful as that might be, we all recognize the pain our fellow producers have experienced during the last two years because of high input costs and, more recently, low hog prices. At the same time, there are things we absolutely must do next year. And one of those things is to be sure we are helping to move product. This budget will reflect that."

Coinciding with the budget work, the board also will get its first look at a proposed new strategic plan that outlines board priorities for the next five years. Bierman said the producer strategic planning task force, of which he is a member, has been working on the plan for more than six months. "The task force represents a good cross-section of our industry," Bierman said, "but we also got a lot of rank-and-file producer input from three listening sessions we conducted around the country and from an online survey in which any pork producer could participate.

"The real value of this plan," he said, "is that it helps us to focus on issues of critical importance to producers. We are at a point in the history of our industry where we can't be all things to all people. We have limited resources and we have to focus them on areas where we can have the greatest impact."

The board is expected to give its final approval to the plan in January. Bierman said the board's chief executive officer, Chris Novak, and others would be talking about the plan to producers at upcoming state pork annual meetings and at Pork Industry Forum in March.

The other major item on the board's November agenda will be a discussion of how pork should be positioned in the eyes of consumers. "We expect that will include a discussion of how The Other White Meat fits into our 21st century marketing plans," Bierman said. "We need to assess if what we're doing now is working, and if it isn't, how we're going to move forward."

The board also will receive a number of reports, including updates on the impact of the H1N1 flu pandemic, the We Care initiative and work the board is doing on the industry's carbon footprint.

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