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Most Illinois pork producers are not ready for Prop 12 requirements
 
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

EUREKA, Ill. — Most Illinois and Midwest pig farmers are unprepared for the imposition of Proposition 12 animal housing restrictions on their operations, according to the president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA).
“We’re sure not (ready),” said Chad Leman, a third-generation pig farmer from Woodford County and IPPA president, “for a variety of reasons. First of all, changing our sow housing to meet Prop 12 requirements is not an overnight process. It takes months and months of planning as to what the best way to remodel these barns would be to accommodate extra space for sows. It also could mean reducing a barn’s sow capacity by a minimum of 25 percent.”
Construction costs and availability are other factors contributing to producers’ reluctance to reconfigure their existing barns or build new structures in order to meet Prop 12 requirements. A bigger factor, however, may be the uncertainty behind potential demand for pork in the Golden State as consumers there begin paying higher prices for pork products due to greater production costs associated with Prop 12. 
“Right now most pork producers are just trying to navigate all the red ink we’ve been experiencing over the course of the last 12 to 15 months, and come out the other side of that. Adding to the uncertainty is that none of the packers are willing to offer (producers) any incentives to go to Prop 12-compliant housing because they don’t know what the demand for pork is going to be in California,” Leman said. “Nobody knows whether Californians are going to be willing to pay a higher price. They’re going to get their Prop 12 pork, but they’re going to have to pay a higher price.”
Leman said he questions the logic behind the entire Prop 12 premise, given that the law only applies to whole-muscle cuts and not ground pork. “This is very confusing to most people, because the pork obviously comes from the same pig,” he said. “If someone wants to buy a tenderloin or a pork chop, they must be willing to pay around 25 percent more for that cut. Will they buy that cut or choose something that’s maybe going to go a bit further? Packers aren’t too excited about paying a premium for Prop 12 pork when they’re not sure the WalMarts and the Costcos are going to be able to sell it in California.”
California consumers account for around 15 percent of all domestic pork sales, according to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Leman agreed that with basically four major packers serving Illinois producers, that figure can also be used to represent the state of Illinois’ percentage of pork sales to California. With around 28 percent of U.S. pork products exported (in 2022, according to NPPC), around 72 percent of the nation’s pork remains in the states. 
Illinois sells around $2 billion in pork every year, meaning around $1,440,000,000 is sold domestically. 
Using these figures and percentages, Illinois sells approximately $216 million in pork products to Californians per year. The NPPC estimates that the cost for producers to invest in Prop 12-adherent barn reconfigurations and pass on to consumers would be $3,500 per sow, meaning a producer-owner would need to spend approximately $14 million to configure a 4,000 sow farm in order to be compliant. 
“None of my pork can be consumed in California. We have no Prop-12 compliant housing,” said Leman, who worries that, in theory, many states could be left with an oversupply of pork while California could become underserved due to the number of non-compliant farms. 
The IPPA leader said that for now, many producers are taking a wait-and-see stance on the issue until the demand for Prop-12 pork in California can be more accurately gauged. He also said that a resolution to the issue could be included within the 2023 Farm Bill, with the drafting of such having been delayed into the new year. 
“It’s wait and see for a couple of reasons; to see whether Californians are going to pay up for their pork, and number two, can we get a fix for Prop 12 yet within the farm bill? That’s my focus and the team’s focus at Illinois Pork-- to see if we can get a fix in the farm bill, because that’s our best platform,” Leman said. 
1/8/2024