Iowa Ag Leaders Welcome Trade Team from Central America, Mexico

A group of seven meat buyers and chefs from Panama, Guatemala and Mexico visited Iowa last week for a firsthand look at the rich and diverse agricultural engine that drives this state’s economy. The team’s visit was funded by the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Beef Industry Council and Iowa Corn Promotion Board, and coordinated by USMEF. The team was accompanied by Dr. Nelson Huerta, USMEF-Mexico technical services director and John Hinners, USMEF assistant vice president for industry relations.

The group’s first stop was at the Couser Cattle Company near Nevada, Iowa, where Bill and Nancy Couser oversee a diversified operation featuring cattle feeding as well as corn and soybean farming. Bill Couser gave the team a thorough tour of the feedlot and discussed the impact this year’s harsh summer weather has had on local crops.


Bill Couser (center) guides the trade team through his corn, soybean and cattle operation near Nevada, Iowa, for a look at local crop and pasture conditions

Next the team visited Iowa State University in Ames, for a tour of the College of Veterinary Medicine. They also met with Iowa Beef Industry Council leadership and staff, for an overview of the state’s beef industry. Dr. Daryl Strohbehn, a seedstock producer from Boone, Iowa, who serves as council treasurer, gave the group a presentation on cattle genetics and the USDA carcass grading system.

In an Iowa Beef Industry Council news release, Dr. Strohbehn discussed his interaction with the trade team.

“It was obvious from discussions and questions that this trade team was very eager to learn as much as possible about the genetics, production and marketing of high quality beef in the U.S. and, in particular, the Corn Belt,” he said “They expressed great interest in the USDA beef grading system and the supply availability of high quality beef products from the U.S. that could make it into the export market.”

The following day’s activities included a visit to Pine Ridge Farm in Des Moines, where Vice President of Sales Mark Cooper discussed how the company works with its suppliers and others in the Iowa pork industry to ensure consistency and quality throughout its product line. He emphasized the importance of exports to the U.S. pork industry and the valuable returns delivered by foreign markets.

A visit to the Iowa State Fair also provided the group with insights into the importance of the state’s pork industry, as some of Iowa’s finest livestock was on display and hungry fair attendees crowded the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s famous pork tent. The team was able to sample some delicious pork entrees while meeting with association leadership.

The final stop on the tour was the Farmland Foods plant near Denison, Iowa, where the team saw pork processed for both the international and domestic markets. Farmland Foods operates two pork plants in Iowa (the other is in Carroll), employing a total of more than 3,000 people.

“Mexico is a mainstay market for U.S. beef and pork, so we are always pleased to bring buyers from Mexico to the United States,” Hinners said. “But there is a growing excitement about Central America, and the opportunities to expand our presence there. With the Central American Free Trade Agreement having been in effect for several years now and the new FTA with Panama set to be implemented in October, the interest from both buyers and suppliers has never been higher.”

Guatemala is this year’s largest Central American destination for U.S. beef, with exports through June reaching 2,177 metric tons valued at $10.4 million – increases of 36 percent in volume and 50 percent in value over last year’s pace. It ranks second (behind Honduras) for U.S. pork exports, with volume reaching 6,245 metric tons valued at $13.5 million, up by 28 percent and 33 percent, respectively, over 2011.

Panama’s purchases of U.S. pork are also surging this year, with volume up 37 percent to 2,269 metric tons and value climbing 29 percent to 5.9 million. Beef exports to Panama are up only 3 percent in volume to 379 metric tons, but have soared 51 percent in value to $3.2 million, reflecting a growing appetite for higher-value cuts.

(NOTE: All totals include both muscle cuts and variety meats, with 1 metric ton = 2,204.622 pounds.)