By adopting best practices and evolving to meet consumer preferences, Michigan’s pork industry has created a bright future from a rich heritage. Leading the charge for change over the past 50 years, the Michigan Pork Producers Association (MPPA) has been at the forefront of education, advocacy and sustainability.

Producing over 2.2 million market hogs annually, Mary Kelpinski, CEO of MPPA, points out Michigan is the 13th largest pork-producing state in the country. She and predecessor Sam Hines, who retired from MPPA in 2016, have seen seismic shifts in industry operations.

“From my perspective, the single biggest thing that has changed is the fact the industry has consolidated,” Hines says. “There are fewer owners, and those owners have more hogs than the typical farmer did 50 years ago.”

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Despite that difference, Hines says the number of people involved in the overall industry hasn’t changed dramatically. Instead, the process has become more specialized, requiring different skill sets. Kelpinski concurs. “We don’t have as many pasture operations, and most farms are specialized. The majority of the production – probably over 90% – has been moved inside. This has resulted in hogs that are healthier and have less genetic variation.”

Hines says many of today’s best practices sprung from a need to be more efficient. For nearly two decades, Michigan was without a major processor.

“It’s a real tribute to the producers of Michigan that they were able to exist at that time when they had a major competitive disadvantage,” he says.

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A fresh pork processing facility opened in late 2017 to once again allow pigs to stay in Michigan from farrow to finish, but the lessons learned during the lean times have continued to pay dividends. By adopting new technologies to enhance traditional methods, local farmers joined the nationwide push to create a more sustainable system.

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“In 1959, it took eight pigs to produce a thousand pounds of pork. Today, it takes five,” Kelpinski says.

“We’ve reduced our land usage by almost 76% from 1960 to 2015, and we’ve reduced our water by 25%, our carbon footprint by almost 8% and our energy usage by 7%,” she continues, referring to some of the environmental improvements.

“Everyone is looking for sustainably produced food, and I think the pork industry is one of the leaders.”

Pork producers have also been aware of changing consumer demands. Although larger by weight, today’s pigs are 75% leaner than in the 1950s and have less than 1 inch of back fat compared to 3 inches in the past. Kelpinski points out, “We have eight cuts that are 16% leaner and have 27% lower saturated fat over the last 25 years.”

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