Two new programs have been developed to promote and develop the marketability of Minnesota agricultural products.

The are Minnesota Certified Pork (MNCEP) and Minnesota Certified (MnCERT).

Minnesota Certified Pork (MNCEP) is designed to produce pork with superior quality using production systems that emphasize food safety, environmental stewardship and animal well being.

"MNCEP is a new generation cooperative," says Thomas Blaha, a professor in the University of Minnesota's college of Veterinary Medicine. Blaha says members of the cooperative buy shares, pay yearly fees and agree on standardized, market-oriented production procedures.

MNCEP is based on the principles of implementing and certifying high quality and food safety standards on all member farms to produce pork that is different from anonymous commodity pork. The president of MNCEP is David Starner, Hoffman, a hog producer.

"The recent price crisis has clearly shown that pork producers face the risk of becoming the cost center of the pork industry they supply," Blaha says. "Traditional tools that pork producers have used, such as reducing sow numbers and lowering production costs, don't work anymore."

"The small- and medium-sized producers that used to serve as a 'buffer' by quickly reducing production are disappearing," Blaha says. "This creates a very volatile economic environment for those who make their living by selling pigs."

Blaha says many producers recognize the need to change the pork industry system from "push-through," or producing as much as possible, to "Pull-through," or producing what the market asks for.

The second new program, Minnesota Certified (MnCERT), can facilitate a producer certification program for any agricultural product or production procedure. The University of Minnesota developed this concept of an independent institution for quality assurance procedures. Blaha, in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Jerry Shurson, director of the Swine Center in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, are working together on the project.

MnCERT is being developed as a non-profit organization. Blaha says it is a joint venture of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota and the private sector.

MnCERT's mission, Blaha says is "to help any network of independent farmers that wants to become part of a value-added supply chain to find a market, to implement market-tailored quality standards and to facilitate the certification of their high-quality production procedures."

Blaha may be reached at 612-625-8290 or Starner at 320-986-2607.

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