Pork producers have faced numerous hurdles this year, including oversupply, market uncertainty, costly challenges due to trade disputes, vulnerability to foreign animal diseases and a labor shortage.
In Illinois alone, these difficulties are affecting an industry that generates $1.8 billion annually to the state’s economy and offers 10,500 jobs. Also, while the entire agriculture industry is struggling with similar issues, the pork industry is shouldering much of the burden.
Despite the challenges, one bright spot for the U.S. pork industry has been stellar export demand from South Korea. Data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) showed that Korea has been the growth pacesetter for U.S. pork purchases in 2018, with exports to Korea up 44% from a year ago in volume (148,233 mt) and 50% in value ($424.3 million). The U.S. has supplied 40% of Korea’s imported chilled/frozen pork this year, up from 36% in 2017.
Recognizing the significant opportunity in Korea, the Illinois Pork Producers Assn. (IPPA) board of directors announced this week that it is committing $30,000 to USMEF specifically to increase pork demand in Korea. Funds are effective immediately to ensure that action is taken before year-end.
“On behalf of the IPPA board, we want pig farmers to know that we recognize the struggles at hand and are spending their checkoff dollars in a wise manner to increase demand for our product and hopefully bring some probability back to our farmers,” said IPPA president Mike Haag, a producer from Emington, Ill.
The initiative was discussed and voted upon by the board of directors, which consists of 24 pig farmers and allied industry members from across Illinois. It was a unanimous vote, with all in favor of giving immediate assistance to support the pork industry, IPPA said.
Korea is the chosen recipient of funds due to the country's consistent year-over-year increase of imported U.S. pork. According to USMEF statistics, during the week of Aug. 3-9, net pork sales to Korea were up 216%, and tons of pork imported were up 37%, which is the largest amount in more than three years.
Additionally, IPPA said Koreans value variety meats from pork that are not utilized in the U.S. market.
WH Group, which owns Smithfield Foods, also has interest in the Korean market. Smithfield’s pork shipments to Korea jumped as much as 50% in the first six months of the year, while shipments to China fell 20-30%.
“In 2017, U.S. pork exports were valued at $53.47 per market hog. Without promising trade deals among China, Canada and Mexico -- a few of our biggest buyers -- over $27.90 per head is at risk,” IPPA said, adding, “With nearly 50% of added export value in danger, we must continue to look for growing markets and put funds where action can be implemented quickly.”