Ohio pork industry talks swine health, sustainability at 2022 conference

Award winners at the Ohio Pork Congress.
Award winners Dave Tebbe, Gary Stitzlein, Jerry Happy, Kevin Isler and Matt Reese stand together at the Ohio Pork Congress, Feb. 9, in Lima, Ohio. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

LIMA, Ohio — Agriculture is full of people who have a lifetime of experience and knowledge. That can be a great thing. But even for farmers who have been in the business for years, it’s important to adapt to changing times — and the world changes fast, Steve Lerch, of Story Arc Consulting, told farmers in a keynote presentation at the Ohio Pork Congress, in Lima, Ohio, Feb. 8-9.

Understanding what customers are interested in, what their values are and what they pay attention to, is important. And it’s also important not to assume different customers’ ways of enjoying food are necessarily better or worse than farmers’ ways, he said.

“As soon as we start judging these people … it is subconsciously closing us off to caring about what they think,” Lerch said. “The idea that we get to tell customers how to use our product … is crazy.”


One thing a lot of customers are interested in is sustainability. Speakers emphasized the importance of measuring sustainability and being able to show that to consumers and legislators.

“We need to show them you’re making improvements, and I believe you guys are making improvements,” said Cheryl Day, executive vice president for the Ohio Pork Council, in a Feb. 8 update on the industry. “We are doing a really bad job of documenting our progress.”

The pork checkoff is offering free, individual on-farm sustainability reports with Sustainable Environmental Consultants, an Iowa-based company that works with other organizations on sustainability. While the individual data is private, the pork council gets aggregated data at the state and national levels from those reports, and can use that information in conversations with legislators.

In a session about those reports, Sara Crawford, vice president of sustainability for the National Pork Board, emphasized sustainability is not going away as a topic. Having a way to show off sustainable practices can help farmers find opportunities connected with sustainability.

“We know sustainability — and this information that’s being requested and talked about throughout the supply chain — is here to stay,” Crawford said. “You have to have the data, so that when that opportunity arises … you can show folks that.”


Foreign animal diseases are another big concern for the industry. Pork industry groups have focused heavily on preparing for and preventing diseases, especially African swine fever, in recent years. Projects like the U.S. Swine Health Improvement Plan are one way the industry is preparing, Chris Rademacher, associate director of Iowa State University’s Iowa Pork Industry Center, said Feb. 9.

The plan is a pilot project, with state and federal agencies, pork industry representatives and university researchers and extension specialists, aimed at creating a monitored certification program for pork farmers for African swine fever and classical swine fever.

It is modeled after the National Poultry Improvement Plan, and aims to help prevent disease, and give farmers a way to show evidence that their herds are free of foreign animal diseases. In 2021, the plan came up with its first version of program standards on things like biosecurity, traceability and disease surveillance. In 2022, working groups are focusing on research to help refine those standards.

“We’re focusing on prevention, first of all, but also response and recovery if we wind up getting a foreign animal disease in the United States,” Rademacher said.

But while the plan is focused on those two specific diseases, it could also help with dealing with diseases that are already in the U.S., and gives the pork industry a foundation for dealing with other diseases, or for eventually eradicating a disease.


The pork council recognized several pork farmers and others involved in the industry at an awards luncheon Feb. 9.

The Pork Industry Excellence Award went to Gary Stitzlein, of Waldo. Stitzlein worked in the animal science department at Ohio State University for 25 years, and has been with Kalmbach Feeds since 2000. He has served on the Delaware County Fair swine committee and on the board of directors for the swine testing station.

Over the years, he has judged at state and county fairs in Ohio, and is known for his work with youth and for going the extra mile to help others in the industry.

“It’s not about pigs; it’s about people,” Stitzlein told attendees after accepting his award at the event. “If you treat people right, things will always work out.”

Dave Tebbe, of Tebbe Farms, in Minster, received the Ohio Pork Industry Service Award. Tebbe has been involved with the industry for 40 years through Sunrise Cooperative and an Interdependent Pork Production System he helped create, and has volunteered at state and county fairs and helped coach youth in the industry.

The Swine Manager of the Year award went to Kevin Isler, of Marysville, who has worked work the swine industry at Kalmbach Feeds for nearly 24 years. Isler has also been a 4-H adviser in Union County for many years and actively supports Richwood Independent Fair.

Jerry Happy, of St. Mary’s, is the Pork Promoter of the Year. Happy, a member of the Ohio Pork Council’s board of directors, has been heavily involved in events including the Pork Chop Open and the pork stand at the Ohio State Fair.

He was also a regional manager for protein for AP. Over 20 years, he estimated he helped cook 11,000 pounds of pulled pork and 11,000 pounds of ribs for the World Pork Expo.

The Friend of the Pork Industry Award went to the Ohio Ag Net and Ohio’s Country Journal, an ag media company.


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