Pork cooperative seeks producers willing to change system

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SALEM, Ohio – A new generation cooperative is moving out of the planning stages to the main action of getting the venture off the ground.

After three years of producer planning, the Great Lakes Pork Cooperative has formalized its existence and is seeking members who are interested in alternative marketing opportunities.

Membership is open to pork producers in Ohio, Indiana or Michigan with any size operation, according to Dick Isler, executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council.

The group aims to create an integrated production system to enhance the value of pork for producers.

Down the line. “Our idea is to let hog producers retain more ownership as the animal moves down the chain,” said Isler. “This lets them take a step forward and sell more directly to the consumer.

“Most importantly, we’re looking for producers who want to do business differently in the future than they have in the past,” he said.

Members will have the opportunity to invest in ventures of the cooperative, including but not limited to marketing strategies and packing and processing plants.

“This will be a business alternative to ensure producer viability,” said Mike Lemmon, co-op board member from Albion, Ind.

“We’re aiming for better information transfer from consumers to producers, and coordination instead of integration,” he said.

Investors. “We’re not asking for an investment in bricks and mortar. We’re looking for producers interested to provide some startup funds to help us identify opportunities,” said Brian Watkins, a pork producer from Kenton, Ohio, and vice president of the co-op board.

“The investment will be small compared to the value of the hog operations, but will give back in returns,” he said.

Members will not be required to use specific genetics, but “animals marketed through the cooperative should meet certain quality guides” and members should be flexible enough to adjust their operations to meet the market, Watkins said.

The cooperative formation has been an effort by the Ohio, Indiana and Michigan pork associations, along with the departments of agriculture, land grant universities and farm bureaus in the three states.

Regional issues. A consortium of representatives from the groups and the pork industry has met for three years to address competitiveness issues in the Eastern Corn Belt, with the focus on how to keep the region viable. Initial market studies indicated the tri-state area was losing status as a major pork-producing area.

The loss, coupled with the extremely low pork prices in the fall of 1998 when “pork producers decided to take their destiny into their own hands and never again get 8- to 10-cent prices,” Isler said, cemented the need for such a group.

Meetings. Informational meetings on the cooperative and membership opportunities will be presented across the tri-state region.

Ohio sessions will be held at the Putnam County Extension office Dec. 6 at 10 a.m.; in Mercer County at the American Legion on Route 119 in Maria Stein, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.; and in Marion County at All Occasions Catering south of Waldo on Route 423, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m.

Producers unable to attend a gathering can contact AgriVisions, program facilitators, at 989-658-8909.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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