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Hog rules could impact junior livestock market

Issue Date: January 26, 2022
By Ching Lee

Impacts of California's Proposition 12—which sets minimum spacing requirements for breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and veal calves—have rippled from farms to fairs this year, as young people who raise project animals for exhibition grapple with implications of the new law.

The biggest impact is expected to be felt by people raising hogs as the state implements the final phase of Proposition 12, approved by California voters in 2018. Specific requirements for veal calves and egg-laying hens went into effect in 2020. As of Jan. 1 this year, additional requirements for egg layers and a minimum housing space of 24 square feet for breeding pigs went into effect.

The housing requirements do not apply to 4-H programs and during exhibitions such as fairs and rodeos. However, state agricultural officials say junior livestock exhibitors who want to sell eggs or project pigs into the general food chain must comply with the minimum housing standards.

Because students who raise project animals spend considerable time and money caring for their animals, Matt Patton, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association, said they won't have a problem complying with Proposition 12. The concern, he said, is over administrative costs and burdens on processors that contract with fairs for the resale hogs.

"What it comes down to for us is the amount of paperwork that is going to be required that is going to keep these processing plants from taking these animals," he said. "Without that outlet, these fairs will have a really difficult time marketing these animals."

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is finalizing rules and regulations for implementing and enforcing the law. According to draft regulations, all market hogs sold through junior livestock auctions going into the "resale" channel must have documentation showing proof they came from farms certified as Proposition 12-compliant. The rule does not apply to hogs sold to private buyers who use custom slaughter and keep the meat for personal consumption.

For processors such as Stockton-based Yosemite Foods, which buys a large number of hogs each year from fairs, having to keep track of each certificate—and supplying them to downstream buyers—creates "a logistical nightmare," said Chance Reeder, plant superintendent for the company and president of the California Pork Producers Association.

He noted that Yosemite Foods has been processing fair hogs for more than 20 years and wants to continue offering the service to help fairs and youth exhibitors.

After saying the company may need to limit the amount of resale hogs it would accept, he followed up with a clarification: "We are just trying to find a solution that works for all. It might not look the same as it has in years past because of Prop. 12."

Producers, processors, agriculture teachers and farm organizations agree the new regulation in its current form would disproportionately affect socioeconomically disadvantaged students who may not have the means or the connections to market their animals to private buyers.

"The kids that rely on other companies to buy their hogs and resell them, they are the ones that are going to be hurt by Prop. 12," Reeder said.

For fairs dealing with hundreds of animals, "it's potentially going to be a real challenge this year trying to navigate a lot of the unknowns," said Shannon Douglass, first vice president of the California Farm Bureau, who also serves as a board director for the Glenn County Fair. That includes trying to track animals from each individual exhibitor and making sure they have proper documentation, "especially when we're still trying to figure out the regs and how to properly follow them," she added.

"I have not seen a fair that has a solid plan of how they're going to deal with it," Douglass said. "Essentially, they've been waiting to see what the new regs might be."

Agricultural organizations including the California Farm Bureau and other stakeholders have asked CDFA to exempt all junior livestock from Proposition 12 rules.

Patton said agricultural teachers would be willing to work with their students and fairs to provide a solution—"anything we can do to alleviate that paperwork burden on the processors."

Because the Monterey County Fair is held in late August and the end of September, Deputy Manager Chris Garmon said, "we have time to feel things out and get the word out down the pipeline."

"It's going to be a lot of paperwork, but it's not going to be as bad as it sounds," Garmon said. "But then again, my fair doesn't have a lot of pigs," unlike fairs such as Kern County, which typically receives more than 300, he noted.

CDFA late last month said it was reviewing comments on its draft regulations and expected to complete the review in mid-January.

CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle said the department "is working to complete the process as quickly as possible," adding, "we continue to evaluate how (the regulations) will apply to state or county fair exhibitions, 4-H programs and similar exhibitions."

Students typically purchase their project pigs from breeders 100 to 120 days prior to the fair. If they plan to exhibit an animal in a spring fair, they likely purchased the piglets last fall, which means those pigs don't fall under Proposition 12 rules, Patton said. Pigs born in 2022 will need to comply.

Because the Sacramento County Fair occurs in May, students exhibiting egg layers this year are the ones who will need paperwork certifying their hens are Proposition 12-compliant, said Mike Albiani, agriculture teacher at Elk Grove High School. As board chairman of the fair, which he said usually sends 250 to 300 resale hogs to processors, he acknowledged the "big unknown" is what the fair will do if it can't get the hogs processed. But fair staff won't need to worry about that until next year.

For later fairs that will be receiving hogs born in 2022, "there is some trepidation about where this whole thing is going to end up," Patton said.

"I get phone calls from my teachers every day…because they're starting to plan for purchasing animals or animals are starting to come in," he said. "They want to know what the endgame is before they make this financial commitment to these projects. They want to make sure they're going to have an outlet for them."

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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