USMEF hosts strategic planning conference, elects officers in New Orleans
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) kicked off its Strategic Planning Conference on Nov. 8 in New Orleans, covering a range of topics impacting global demand for U.S. pork, beef and lamb.
USMEF Chair Dean Meyer, a livestock and grain producer from Rock Rapids, Iowa, welcomed attendees with a reminder of how the organization brings together diverse sectors of agriculture to work toward common objectives.
“Regardless of the sector we are based in, we’re able to come together on most issues and provide a unified voice,” Meyer said. “And I don’t need to tell you, American agriculture needs this unified voice now more than ever, because there are critical programs and issues in need of our support.”
To start, Keynote Speaker Alexis Taylor, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs, spoke on a new market development program, which was recently announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Taylor noted the USDA plans to utilize $1.3 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation to fund a Regional Agricultural Promotion Program aimed at diversifying export markets for U.S. agricultural products.
Additionally, Taylor spoke about USDA’s successful partnership with the red meat industry in expanding global demand. Noting the strong track record of USDA market development programs in providing value-added returns to U.S. producers, Taylor provided examples of how USMEF utilizes USDA funds to grow the international customer base.
Following Taylor, USMEF Vice President for the Asia Pacific Jihae Yang emphasized the analytical approach USMEF uses to develop specific marketing strategies.
“Knowing where and how to invest is critical, and working in-country enables USMEF staff to analyze individual markets, understand supply chains and build long-term relationships with businesses,” she said.
USMEF Latin America Representative Homero Recio reviewed a USMEF training and evaluation program in Colombia, which was developed to help butcher shops improve operational practices and, ultimately, increase sales of U.S. red meat.
USMEF President and Chief Executive Officer Dan Halstrom also addressed conference attendees, providing an update on the current state of red meat exports and his outlook for 2024.
Halstrom highlighted Mexico as a market in which both U.S. pork and beef are performing exceptionally well, with pork exports to Mexico well on the way to another annual record.
He noted U.S. pork exports are achieving broad-based growth in 2023, with demand accelerating in Central America and the Caribbean and the U.S. recapturing market share from European pork in several Asia Pacific destinations.
The environment is less favorable for U.S. beef, with 2023 exports running well below last year’s record-large volumes in major Asian markets. But, Halstrom emphasized even in the face of significant headwinds, the U.S. beef industry has opportunities to capture new customers, especially by highlighting the value and versatility offered by underutilized beef cuts.
Guest speakers at the conference included ag policy journalist and analyst Jim Wiesemeyer, who provided an update on farm bill negotiations, the fast-approaching government shutdown deadline and other items of interest currently before Congress, as well as Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, who expressed appreciation for USMEF’s efforts to expand global demand and to highlight the quality and safety of U.S. red meat.
“We have to work together to defend agriculture, grow agriculture and sell it all over the world,” Pillen said. “And, it’s important that we’re very transparent so we can maintain the trust we’ve earned as the most respected producers in the world.”
The conference wrapped up on Nov. 10 with the election of a new officer team, including Randy Spronk, a pork and grain producer from Edgerton, Minn. as the new USMEF chair.
A past president of the National Pork Producers Council and Minnesota Pork Producers Association, Spronk is president and managing partner for Spronk Brothers Holding, which includes operations which produce pork and feedgrains, along with feed milling and delivery.
Spronk is also part of a group of producers who purchased a former Hormel plant and markets pork products under the label of Wholestone Foods.
Additionally, Spronk has participated in numerous trade missions, beginning with a 1999 journey to Japan with then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. He made his first return to Japan this year as part of a USMEF delegation which also visited South Korea.
Spronk succeeds outgoing USMEF Chair Dean Meyer, a corn, soybean and livestock producer from Rock Rapids, Iowa.
Steve Hanson, a cattle rancher from southwestern Nebraska who is also president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, will serve as USMEF chair-elect in the coming year. The vice chair is Jay Theiler, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Agri Beef, based in Boise, Idaho.
The newest USMEF officer is Secretary/Treasurer David Bruntz, a farmer and cattle feeder from Friend, Neb.
Bruntz farms with his brother and nephew, raising corn and soybeans along with fed cattle. His past leadership roles include serving as chair of the Nebraska Corn Board, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association regional vice president.
Bruntz has also served on the USMEF Executive Committee, representing the feedgrains sector.
USMEF represents producers across all sectors with the mission of increasing the value and profit opportunities for the U.S. beef, pork and lamb industries by enhancing demand in export markets through a coordinated and collaborative partnership of all stakeholders. USMEF members will next meet May 22-24, 2024 for the Spring Conference in Kansas City, Mo. For more on USMEF, visit usmef.org.