Proposition 12 and the Future of the U.S. Pork Industry

Why would a farm convert to become California Proposition 12 compliant? It’s a fair question that Phillip Hord, president of Hord Family Farms in Bucyrus, Ohio, continues to ask himself. They recently finished the construction of a new farm that will be Proposition 12 compliant and are in the process of adding gilts to the farm that have been in backgrounding to better prepare them for a Prop 12 compliant system. 

“Ultimately, when we’re building assets that are going to possibly even outlive me, we have to think about the future. When we think about the longevity of the asset, and right now, what is right in front of us, we felt like we had to make that decision,” Hord says. 

The Hords have been using pen gestation for 17 years now. Ohio producers are familiar with what it’s like to raise gilts and sows in an open pen, he explains. But Prop 12 adds even more square footage requirements, resulting in poorer efficiency and a potentially greater carbon footprint.

“There’s a lot of things to consider as you think about the impact of Prop 12 compliant systems,” Hord says. “I don’t want to discount the fact there’s an opportunity as a farmer to create a product that consumers are demanding. I’m also thinking about how we pay for the additional cost that’s required to make it compliant.”

After touring many Prop 12 compliant farms, Hord has concluded that regardless of how much space you deem best, sows are communal animals that will lay up next to each other – assuming the ambient temperature is appropriate. 

“They prefer to be all nestled up with each other and do not utilize the space available to them in Prop 12 systems,” he points out. “I see why people think more space is always better. Who doesn’t like more space? But in this case, you are trying to compare how humans feel to how a communal animal feels that chooses to lay right up next to each other.”

The unknowns of Prop 12 make it a challenge to know what to do next as a pork producer, Hord says. 

“Prop 12 and Massachusetts Question 3 are always on our minds,” says Nick Seger, an Ohio pork producer and president of the Ohio Pork Council. “But right now, we are very focused on improving profitability. That’s the more pressing problem today, tying in with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) outbreaks right now in the state of Ohio.”

Nathan Schroeder, an Ohio pork producer and treasurer of the Ohio Pork Council, says the uncertainty around Prop 12 is unsettling.

“Nobody knows what to expect, or what to do; and it’s very costly. It’s pretty tough for one state to dictate to other states, but it happened. Now, we’ve got to deal with it,” Schroeder says.


Dealing with it isn’t easy, however. The past 18 months have been hard for many producers to keep going.

“As we think about the producers that have been able to survive, a lot of that comes back to having production that is done with excellence,” Hord says.

Production efficiency and production excellence continue to be the highest priority at Hord Family Farms. He says it’s become even more important during these difficult economic times. 

“What’s on my mind certainly is disease, that’s a big thing, it’s impacted my business greatly. Even in our region in Ohio, there’s been more porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PPRS) pressure than there has been in some years past. We’ve experienced the losses that have come from that,” Hord says. 

Aside from the challenges, Hord is focused on making Hord Family Farms a great place for their team to work while being a good community member. 

“I’m not just thinking about right now, but the future, too. How are we going to be able to continue to sustain our business under these circumstances?” Hord asks. “We have to be really good at what we do every day. When we’re not, it makes it much more challenging.”

As the president of a multi-generational farm, Hord feels the pressure of sustaining the farm for future generations. 

“I want to have a business for our kids and grandkids to come back to if they choose,” he says. “Having young kids, I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of us in this industry who love animals and this way of life. I want to preserve this life for them. I believe the heart of what makes America great is having a secure, safe supply of food that’s grown right here. We want to help do that for generations to come.”