Teams of meat buyers from across the globe received a firsthand look at U.S. pork production and processing practices before attending the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Board of Directors Meeting and Product Showcase in St. Louis.
Roger Zylstra, who has a hog finishing operation in Jasper County, Iowa, hosted a team of buyers from former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. While these countries currently import only a small volume of U.S. pork, USMEF views them as emerging markets with significant growth potential, especially in the meat processing sector.
Zylstra, who also raises corn, soybeans and cattle, said the buyers were intrigued by the efficient management practices and attention to detail at his operation.
“They were amazed that an operation of this size had only two people – my son and me – providing the labor,” he said. “Coming from the collective system that they are accustomed to, they probably hadn’t been exposed to the idea of someone doing the marketing, banking and management, as well as the labor.”
The group was also impressed with how various sectors of agriculture fuel the area’s economy.
“Because we are a contract finishing operation for hogs, we sell all of our grain,” Zylstra explained. “But we sell a lot of it to the local feed mill about nine miles from our operation, and some of that comes back to our farm. With the size of our finishing operation, we feed more grain than our farm can grow. But it all stays pretty local and adds value to our economy.”
Prior to visiting Zylstra’s operation, the team observed pork processing practices at the JBS plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. This plant was also toured by a group of buyers from South Korea, as well as a team made up of buyers from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Following the plant tour, Wayne Humphreys hosted the Hong Kong/Taiwan team, which included representatives from food distribution companies and supermarket chains, at his farm near Columbus Junction, Iowa. In addition to his hog operation, Humphreys raises corn and soybeans and has a cow-calf herd.
“We were delighted to host the team, because visiting our farm allowed them to trace the value chain all the way back to its beginning,” Humphreys said. “We explained to the buyers how we use the Pork Quality Assurance Program to ensure we are taking proper care of our animals. The team asked a lot of appropriate questions about feed rations, weight management and the temperatures and conditions where the animals are kept. They were very well-informed, and even more so after having been on our farm.”
Humphreys found it especially gratifying to meet up with the buyers again at the USMEF Product Showcase, where exporters displayed a wide range of U.S. pork, beef and lamb products.
“This event is so wonderful,” he said. “Our commodity organizations commit a great deal of time and money trying to bring buyers and sellers together, and that’s exactly what’s happening here tonight. People are writing orders, taking samples and arranging shipments – this is exactly what producers hope will happen when we make these investments.”
One of the newest destinations for U.S. pork is South Africa, which reopened earlier this year after an extended closure. Mike Burger, a trader with Transtrade International in Cape Town, South Africa, was part of an African trade team that also included buyers from Nigeria and Angola. One of the highlights of Burger’s visit – his first to the United States – was a tour of the Triumph Foods pork plant in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“This is my first look at the U.S. industry and I was actually amazed at the technology,” Burger said. “But I’m amazed at the whole process – the complete involvement of the government inspectors and veterinary services. There’s one big picture and it seems to work really well. It’s very, very advanced.”
Burger expressed excitement at the return of U.S. pork, beef and poultry to South Africa, which have all faced significant market access obstacles for many years.
“I’m really glad all that has come to an end, because this is part of my livelihood and the livelihood of a lot of people I represent,” he said. “So it’s great to be able to do business with new people and I’m very excited about my visit to the United States. I leave here with great memories and I would love to come back again.”
In addition to the trade teams mentioned above, USMEF also hosted teams of buyers from the Caribbean, Central America, China and South America, as well as three teams from Japan (pork retail, beef retail and foodservice) and three teams from Mexico (retail, foodservice and trade). In total, more than 130 buyers participated in the event.