Minnesota pork producers work to get their sustainability efforts to consumers

The Minnesota Pork Congress and trade show was held last week in Mankato.

A pig at the fence at Nettle Valley Farm on Sept. 10, 2021, in Spring Grove, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek

MANKATO — As consumers are increasingly curious about where their food comes from but also more removed than ever from animal production, pork farmers are working to spread the message about their efforts on sustainability and animal treatment.

"A lot of us have done a lot of the things right over the years, but we've done a good job of keeping it a secret," said Don Buhl, a pig farmer from Tyler, who was attending the Minnesota Pork Congress and trade show last week in Mankato.

"I think it's logical that people are interested in where their food comes from," Buhl said. "Our challenge is connecting with them and telling them what we do. We don't do a good job of that."

Sara Crawford, vice president of sustainability for the National Pork Board, and Lauren Servick, director of marketing and public policy engagement with Mankato-based Minnesota Pork, gave a seminar on a new sustainability effort.

Called WeCare, the national group worked with producers across the country for the past two years to create a data-driven model to measure a variety of efforts producers can aim for and allow producers to measure their work against what other farmers in the state and nation are doing.


"We know consumers are further away from where their pork is produced, but they're more interested in where it comes from," Crawford said. She said producers use a variety of sustainable practices, but often don't even realize it and don't often let consumers know about it.

Servick said sustainable practices are also best for a producer's business. "Sustainability makes you money, saves you money and saves you time."

The national pork group developed a framework of ethical production guidelines 20 years ago, but in the past two years has created a model with specific goals and measurements. The program focuses on environment, food safety, animal well-being, well-being of employees, community and safeguarding public health.

Farmers are now able to use an online tool to calculate and input things like their operation's carbon footprint, animal health details, crop information, employee training, efforts to safeguard food and more. The information is input through a third-party partner and the results include nothing that identifies individual farmers to protect their privacy. The information is then combined with information from other producers to create a state and national database of what farmers are doing and how well they are meeting goals.

Crawford said the producer owns their information and can share individual findings only with those they wish. She said the combined data will be useful to pork associations to present to big buyers, such as Walmart or McDonalds, which are interested in showing customers they are taking steps to be more environmentally friendly and protective of animal welfare.

(c)2022 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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