Ben Johnson is willing to admit he learned quite a bit over the past year.

As the 2016-17 Minnesota Pork ambassador, Johnson, who grew up in the Walnut Grove area, has spent the past 12 months speaking up for the industry that has been such an important part of his life and educating himself about how he can continue to be that voice for the rest of his life.

Johnson was named the Minnesota Pork ambassador one year ago at Farmfest, and since that day he has done everything from speaking with average citizens about the industry to lobbying in Washington, D.C. to ensure the issues important to pork producers are being heard by policymakers.

“It’s hard to believe that a year has already gone by,” said Johnson, who spoke recently about the past year and what he was able to experience. “It’s been very busy.” 

From taking tours of packing plants to meeting with other pork industry leaders to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for producers and others involved in getting pork from the fair to the table, Johnson said he truly has enjoyed the opportunity.

Johnson said he was able this past April to travel to Washington, D.C, to meet on “the hill” with legislative leaders from Minnesota, and he said they all expressed strong support for the pork industry and agriculture in general.

“That support is awesome,” Johnson said.

Learning about what is new in pork, including having the chance to visit a robotic operation, provided Johnson great learning opportunities he will utilize as he looks to his future.

“The pork ambassador program is great,” said Johnson, adding those involved in it do a fantastic job of providing opportunities for people to reach out and speak up with people who know very little about agriculture.

Johnson said the industry faces challenges from ensuring continued exports around the world to facing diseases that have an impact on pork as a whole.

Finding ways to improve exports and creating a vaccine bank for the future in the event a major outbreak would occur are things that are important to Johnson because they are important to the pork industry.

Johnson knows as more and more people are farther removed from the farm, there is a need for ambassadors to speak up and be the voice for the industry. He fully intends to continue to be that voice long after his role as Minnesota pork ambassador comes to an end.

“There is a lot of work to do to educate people,” he said, adding getting the public accurate information is key.

Johnson believes it is the role of the pork producer to be actively engaged in public education, state and federal policy and other important issues related to what they do on the farm, because if they don’t no one else will.

While Johnson already knew that there is so much more to the pork industry than those who raise hogs, he added the vast number of people involved is huge.

“It was nice to be able to see the faces behind all of what happens in this industry,” said Johnson.

Johnson, who will pass the torch to the next pork ambassador this Wednesday at Farmfest, said he is grateful for the opportunity he has been given.

This fall, Johnson will be a junior at Iowa State University where he is pursuing a degree in ag business.

During the fall semester he will be studying in Spain as a way to broaden his cultural horizons and improve his Spanish speaking skills. He realizes there are a number of Spanish speaking people who work in the pork industry, and he believes in whatever role he fills it will be important for him to be able to communicate with everyone who is involved.

Ultimately, Johnson would like to return to his Walnut Grove roots and farm and to continue to be that advocate.

“People who are in the pork industry need to always be the voice for what they do,” said Johnson, adding that is a task that he knows will never be finished, and he is looking forward to the opportunities he will have to be the voice for something that is so important to him and his family.