CARLYLE, Ill. — The new president of the National Pork Producers Council can relate to the local pig farmer as well as the head of a large swine production company. That’s because he is both.
Ken Maschhoff still lives near this southern Illinois community where his family has farmed for generations. As chairman of the board of The Maschhoffs, he is part of the management team that owns the fourth-largest swine operation in the United States, and the largest family-owned pork operation in North America.
The Maschhoffs is run by two brothers and their wives: Ken and Julie Maschhoff, and Dave and Karen Maschhoff. The company produces 5 million pigs annually through a network that includes more than 500 farmers in nine states referred to as “production partners.” Ken is chairman of the board.
The company has diversified in recent years, adding non-ag companies as well as the 2013 purchase of the Minnesota poultry company GNP Foods. The Maschhoffs has since divested itself of the poultry business, focusing on pork production.
IFT recently sat down with Ken Maschhoff at the company headquarters to discuss agriculture in general as well as issues he is dealing with as NPPC president.
IFT: You started out like most of the farmers in your system, as an individual pork producer. What spurred your family to expand a family farm into what has become a major livestock company?
KM: Our growth occurred at opportune times in the industry. We started out taking rather small steps, and as we perfected those strategies, we were able to continue to apply them in more steps.
IFT: Your company has been quick to respond to an undercover video taken by an animal-rights activist on a partner’s farm that appears to show mistreatment of animals. Do you believe such a proactive approach is key to communicating the responsibilities involved in animal agriculture?
KM: The real key is being willing and able to provide increasing levels of transparency in terms of how a business such as The Maschhoffs produces animals for food.
Very few consumers today have firsthand knowledge or experience with agriculture. By being transparent in all that we do, we can showcase the passion that we have for proper animal care. And, at the same time, that transparency will show consumers that we have high standards for animal care that we strive to meet each and every day, across all of our farms.
When those standards are not being met, we are extremely quick to rectify any deficiencies.
IFT: NPPC works on a number of issues, including government policy and marketing. If the issues were represented by a pie chart, what would be the biggest slice?
KM: The biggest slice of the pie would likely be the emphasis on trade these days.
While regulatory reform and other issues are very important, trade represents $50 a head for every animal marketed in the United States. We export more than $6 billion worth of pork each year, and that number will need to increase with the current expansion in the industry and new packing plants coming online this fall.
Opening up new markets and retaining our best trading partners such as Japan, Mexico, Canada and China are extremely important.
IFT: How will the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership affect pork producers? Is NPPC taking any steps to persuade the Trump administration to reconsider its decision to back out of the trade treaty?
KM: Actually, we have already been working with the administration to begin the dialogue for bilateral trade agreements with key partners such as Japan and Vietnam.
I do think bilateral agreements can be created and certainly will be vital for animal agriculture and all of our culture, for that matter. Retaining much if not all of what has been good for agriculture in NAFTA is imperative as well.
IFT: Pork producers obviously have common interests with other farmers and ag-related industries. How would you describe the relations between
NPPC and other commodity groups? Have ag commodity organizations found more common ground in recent years? And what are some major issues where NPPC differs from others in the industry?
KM: I believe NPPC is very well respected among the various ag organizations. We typically are closely aligned on basic issues such as fair and free trade agreements, even as we have differed on our approach to government subsidies on issues like ethanol.
One very important issue that I hope we all can support in the 2018 Farm Bill is the creation of the FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) Bank. It’s no secret in the barnyard community or on Capitol Hill, NPPC often leads on many of these issues.
IFT: NPPC is opposing the Farmer Fair Practices Rules. Could you briefly explain your interpretation of the proposed legislation, and why you believe it would be bad for the pork industry?
KM: The main reason the interim final rule on GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyard Administration) would be bad or potentially devastating for animal agriculture, is it effectively provides a vehicle for trial lawyers to start filing class-action lawsuits against packers and swine contractors in federal court under the Packers and Stockyard Act for any variety of grievances.
For nearly 100 years prior to this rule, in order to prevail in a PSA suit, a trial lawyer needed to show the activity involved in a complaint had an impact on the competitive marketplace. Now, under the rule, lawyers can bring a suit for any disagreement at all.
Obviously, if this rule were in place it would force further consolidation in the industry, and more producers would want to own packing plants and more packers would want to own their own production.
IFT: In the past you have gotten involved in politics as a citizen and a farmer. Is there a possibility that some day you may run for political office yourself?
KM: I have considered that, but I don’t think that will be in my future.