A group of Iowa farmers recently saw how their checkoff dollars were used to expand global opportunities on a weeklong trade mission to South Korea and Japan.
Farm Bureau members Bill Tentinger, of Le Mars, and Dean Black, of Somers, were among a group that traveled to those countries with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and representatives from the Iowa Department of Economic Authority, the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) earlier this month.
A dinner with meat importers, wholesale outlets and some managers of retail store meat departments gave Tentinger and Black a chance to talk about their farms and industries.
"We (U.S. pork producers) feel that we are probably as competitive as anybody in the world with our product because we have a good production system," said Tentinger, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. "Corn and soybeans are raised here; we can raise our livestock here and we can reapply the manure on the land. They seemed to be very receptive to that."
Tentinger, who has a farrow-to-finish swine herd, said the importers had questions about the pork supply and what that meant going forward. "They're concerned about a good, stable supply of products coming out of Iowa," he said.
Tentinger told importers that farmers are optimistic about next year's corn and soybean crops, which he said should help bring feed prices down and expand pork production. "And it's all really centered on that," he said.
Though the sow herd has shrunk, Tentinger told importers that pork producers had expected worse. With litter sizes growing there should be a stable supply of pork, he said.
Adding to beef's value
Dean Black, a cattle feedlot operator and Webster County Farm Bureau member, gave a presentation about his operation and highlighted the Beef Quality Assurance program and environmental stewardship.
"I was able to give a face to beef products," Black, who serves on the executive committee for the national Cattlemen's Beef Board, said.
He added that the personal connection is important to both him as well as the importers.
"What stuck out to me as a beef producer is that Korea ranks our beef as their number one choice for flavor and quality of all imported and domestic meats," he said.
Black said Japan was the bright spot of the trip because it is expected to lift the almost decade-long restriction of beef from cattle under 21 months of age and accept beef under 30 months of age.
Lifting the restriction would mean a more steady supply of beef for Japan and add an expected $19 per head to the finished cattle, Black said.
"They're just as excited about it as we are," he said.
Key food concerns
In Japan, pork consumption is increasing as income levels rise, Tentinger said.
Despite the fact that 30 percent of the Japanese households' incomes are spent on food, Tentinger said their biggest concern is access to food and food safety.
"One of the reasons why the pork market didn't peek out yet in Japan is because consumer studies show a change of consumer attitude away from domestic pork to imported pork," Tentinger said. "That is going to be really key -- that we have proven to the Japanese that we have a safe product."
The group met with Japanese meatpacker Ito Ham and learned that it imports 50 million pounds of pork per year from Sioux City.
Another, Nippon Meat Packers, Inc., sources 40 percent of its meat from Iowa.
Both men said the trip was a good reminder of how their checkoff dollars are put to use, and the work the USMEF does in other countries to promote U.S. products.
"Other countries like Chile, Denmark, even Canada, are trying to copy what we have done over there through USMEF," Tentinger said. "They've started to put full time offices in these countries because they realize the importance of those markets."