Jamee Amundson Eggers, Producer Education Director at Iowa Pork Producers Association is a powerhouse of knowledge and passion in the pork industry, even if she came to it in a roundabout way. We sat down with Eggers to hear more about her background and her unique perspective on the future of the pork industry.
Eggers attended Iowa State University and got her undergraduate degree in animal science. She then attended the University of Nebraska for a master’s of science in animal nutrition with a focus on ruminant nutrition.
Starting her career working for both the Nebraska and Colorado Departments of Agriculture in the state veterinarian’s offices, Eggers has diverse experiences working with everything from sheep and goat health, poultry health, and bovine disease management programs to animal welfare and neglect within commercial pet animal licensing.
This animal welfare experience gave her a foot in the door to working at the National Pork Board where she focused on pork quality and transport quality assurance programs. She also worked on animal welfare auditing programs and tracking the results of a wide variety of research projects. In early 2018 Eggers transitioned to her current position with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, where she heads up a variety of committees on producer education, swine health, foreign animal disease preparedness, animal wellbeing, and research.
“I have my hands in several different projects everyday,” Eggers said, “It offers me a lot of variety and hands on time with pork producers, researchers, and educators.”
Because of Eggers’ time at the National Pork Board and her current position at the Iowa Pork Producers Association, she offers a unique perspective on the position of group housing in the US as well as her thoughts on the future of the pork industry.
The Future of the Industry
Eggers acknowledges that these are somewhat uncertain times for many producers. Current trade wars make it hard to know what changes could be coming down the pike. But, despite the economic uncertainty, Eggers warns that producers shouldn’t just sit back and wait to see what happens.
“The worst part of the uncertainty is the tendency for many of us to put other issues on the back burner,” Eggers said. “I don’t want us to ignore welfare, or foreign animal disease preparedness and then get hit by that train coming down the track.”
Will There Ever Be a Group Housing Mandate in the US?
Eggers is encouraged by the voluntary move many producers are making toward group sow housing, as research shows that when it is done well, it can be just as efficient or productive as other housing systems. “I think it has been exciting to see the shift in attitudes , to see how producers are starting to embrace new technologies or different production systems like group housing,” Eggers said. “The New Standard panel discussion at World Pork Expo this year was a great example of producers who have converted to group housing, are embracing new and different production methods, and striving to balance welfare and production challenges the best they can every day.. It was great to see their willingness to peer share with no competitive stance, no holding their cards to their chest. Everyone was viewing it as continuous improvement and that was neat to watch.”
While Eggers believes that public pressure may push some producers toward group sow housing in the future, she hesitates to conclude that the US will move toward a full-on federal mandate for the practice like Canada. “Due to the strong value on personal freedom in the US, I don’t see a mandate happening,” Eggers said.
Along with the shift to more group housing, Eggers noted other exciting changes in the swine industry. Advancements in technologies like electronic sow feeders, more robust data management tools, new handling equipment, and movement toward fully filtered buildings are just a few examples of swine producers striving for continuous improvement using technology and innovation.
Innovation is Everywhere in the Swine Industry
Eggers explained that one of her most dynamic projects is working with a research committee through the Iowa Pork Producers Association to fund scientific research at Iowa State University. “The research committee has supported a lot of outstanding and important research throughout the years. While the research priorities rising to the top may change each year, their commitment to supporting researchers, developing human capital and driving innovation is relentless”, Eggers said.
Some of the projects funded by the committee and overseen by Eggers include manure management with cover crops and their effect on water quality, developing new animal handling tools for non-ambulatory animals, exploring creative ways to decrease odor from swine facilities, disease elimination in production, and pork quality.
“Most recently it was exciting to see the committee stretch themselves and fund some really innovative projects like using camera and animation technology to teach computers to identify sick pigs as well as a project looking at caretaker attitudes and euthanasia training.” said Eggers.
The other place Eggers sees technological innovation in the swine industry is the explosion of agriculture technology accelerators or start up groups. Iowa is home to the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator where the 2 cohorts of startup companies have included a swine production product. Eggers has served as a mentor for the Accelerator for both years and really enjoyed the experience. “Mentoring sounds so formal and fancy”, said Eggers, “in reality, the founders of these two startups have probably taught me more than I have taught them. I am in awe of their entrepreneurial spirit and skills”.
As a mentor, Eggers helps the start ups develop swine industry contacts, connect them to researchers and research funding opportunities, as well as giving feedback on their practice pitch presentations. Eggers notes this is just a small example of the innovation present in the swine industry.
“The more I meet with producers and talk about their farms, the more I realize pig farmers are an innovative and creative bunch,” Eggers said. “They are consistently solving their problems in a creative way that works for them. I think we could have an entire Accelerator full of only swine products.” Eggers adds.
Hope for the Future
Despite the current mood of uncertainty, Eggers’ believes we have reason to celebrate victories in the present and hope for better days in the future.
She has seen what she describes as a huge shift in opening farms to the public eye. “We are doing a fantastic job of embracing the idea of sharing our story,” Eggers said. “We have made great strides to show how we are supporting the We Care ethical principles of the industry,”
From a renewed focus on animal welfare to more transparency and research on air and water quality, producers are doing their best to promote excellence. “It is a challenging time. Change has never come this fast before,” Eggers said. “I feel the concern, but I am also encouraged by the willingness to look forward and adapt to change. Seeing the innovation, resiliency, and creativity in pig farmers gives me great hope for our industry.”