Attendance at Illinois pork tour rises with global pork demand

By Jacob Bielanski 
Illinois News Network

A tour for international buyers of the pork industry in Illinois finished its run last week boasting more attendees than the prior year, says the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“[Organizers are] seeing a lot of energy, a lot of interest, in the stops that we’re making,” Rebecca Clark, spokesperson for the IDOA, told Illinois News Network of reports she received from the tour.

Organizers and supporters tout the event as a means to build relationships between Illinois pork farmers and international buyers. These efforts have led Illinois to become the fourth-largest pork producer in the U.S., according to both IDOA, the tour’s organizers, and the Illinois Pork Producers.

Though Clark said Illinois’ success in a competitive global market could not be attributed to a single factor, innovation, tradition and financing all feature in the tours stops. Stops included the Chicago Board of Trade, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and Farmweld, a Teutopolis-based company that IDOA described as “a company that is on the forefront of wean-to-finish technology.”

“We hold those midwestern values, and our companies do as well,” Clark said. “When you have the opportunity to build these relationships, you have the opportunity to demonstrate the value of high-quality, Illinois products.”

IPP executive director Jennifer Tirey also indicated that “several” pork processing plants under construction in Illinois would be coming online in 2018.

“This will give our industry the ability to boost slaughter capacity and meet a higher demand for exports,” she told Illinois News Network.

The U.S. is the world leader in pork exports, sending out nearly 2.2 million metric tons of pork annually, according to National Pork Council. The biggest recipient for U.S. pork was Mexico, according to Tiery, importing approximately 730,000 metric tons of pork in 2016. She said the tour was a good opportunity to emphasize “the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” or NAFTA.

The Trump administration softened its stance on NAFTA in late April. Though President Trump had campaigned on a message of pulling out of the Clinton-era agreement that virtually eliminates tariffs on goods shipped between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., the administration announced during an April 27 press briefing that it would instead seek to “renegotiate” the terms. The Trump administration filed a formal notice of renegotiation of NAFTA with Congress May 18.

According to data from the U.S. Meat Export Federation, pork exports to Mexico from January through April of this year were up 27 percent over the same period last year. Meanwhile, the second largest market for U.S. pork, China, had imported approximately 21 percent less compared to last year, according to the same data. China imported roughly half as much U.S. pork as Mexico last year.

China is both the largest consumer and producer of pork, globally. A 2014 report from the U.S. International Trade Commission noted that its domestic consumption had grown faster than its ability to produce. An April 2017 article from The Economist noted that China’s pork industry is “fragmented and inefficient”, with one-fifth of the domestic market relying on “backyard” farming operations. The Chinese government, the article noted, is attempting to mitigate cyclical price spikes on domestic pork that have resulted, the most recent of which occurred last year. In the past, those strategies have included the purchase of “strategic pork reserves,” which the USITC report noted causes temporary surges in global demand for pork.

In addition to China and Mexico, the tour also hosted representatives of the Dominican Republic and Columbia, whose imports of U.S. pork since the same period last year have increased 88 and 35 percent, respectively, according to the USMEF data. Other countries included Myanmar, Ecuador and Vietnam.

The IDOA has held the pork tour annually for “over 20 years,” according to Clark.

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