When Roger Zylstra looks at the latest pork export numbers, he sees green – folding green.  A Lynnville, IA, corn and soybean farmer and secretary/treasurer of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA), Zylstra also feeds hogs and keeps a very close eye on the pork market. He understands that the pork industry is one of his top customers.

“We look at exports of pork as one of our major outlets for our corn,” says Zylstra, who teams with his son, Wesley, on their 700-acre farm east of Des Moines.  “The international markets have become so important that if we couldn’t maintain our exports, in Iowa we’d have to shut down one-third of our (corn) facilities.”

With roughly 15 bushels of corn going to feed each market hog, U.S. corn exports through pork continue to benefit from record-setting American pork export levels.  Through four months of 2012, exports stand at 781,676 metric tons (more than 1.7 billion pounds) valued at nearly $2.2 billion. 

Those totals represent a 6% rise in volume and a 16% jump in value over last year’s record-setting levels.  And, to demonstrate the dynamic growth of U.S. pork exports, those four-month totals already exceed the full-year export numbers for 2003, the same year that ICGA got involved with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), although the Iowa Corn Promotion Board has been involved with USMEF since the late '70s.  Both the growth in exports and the enhanced profit margin pork exports provide are incentives for close collaboration between the groups.

“Last month, the value per head of the pork the United States exported was nearly $58,” Zylstra notes.  “We recognize the importance of the extra value that exports bring.”

Now in his seventh year on the ICGA board, Zylstra says his organization doesn’t need much convincing to get behind export programs. “We’re very fortunate that the producers involved with ICGA understand the significance of meat exports. A pretty good share of our board members are directly involved in livestock industries,” he adds.

Zylstra’s personal commitment to exports has inspired him to host a number of international trade teams through his affiliation with USMEF and the U.S. Grains Council, including hosting visiting teams on his farm from China, Peru and Colombia.

“Producers like Roger Zylstra play a key role in maintaining and growing our strong export levels,” notes Philip Seng, president and CEO for USMEF.  “Meeting American farmers and producers is an important element in building confidence among our international customers.  They want to know where their food comes from.”

Seng also singled out the ICGA as an example of the collaboration that makes international marketing programs successful. “There is no shortcut to success in the international marketplace,” Seng says.  “It requires the support of state organizations like the Iowa Corn Growers along with the national beef and pork checkoff programs, state and national soybean organizations, and the U.S. government through the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).  Those funding sources come together under the USMEF umbrella where they are bolstered and magnified by third-party contributions that come from our international import and retail partners.”

Last year, USMEF was able to match more than $19 million in USDA funding with $16.5 million in checkoff resources, plus just over $1 million from membership dues and sponsorships for a $36.8 million budget.  Contributions from international partners valued at $67.8 million increased the buying power of that budget to more than $104 million.