Exports are more than loins, bacon and hams

The wild gyrations in both the grain and livestock futures markets this week serve as a very good reminder that US agriculture is not an isolated production system. With talk of a possible collapse of the Russian ruble and the delay in export certificates for Russian wheat, the US was suddenly looked to as the desired trade partner by many purchasers of bulk feed grains.

The latest numbers I’ve seen is that approximately 25% of our pork production is exported. While we think of exports as those shipments that depart the US on boats to such countries as Japan, China and the Pacific Rim, in fact Canada and Mexico are 2 of our largest trading partners. Mexico is a major buyer of hams while the Canadians buy the same high value cuts that we see in our stores.

On the other hand, much of the Pacific Rim export trade (including Hong Kong and China) adds value to our production by purchasing such items as boar testicles, sow uterus, pig ears, etc. On a trip to Taiwan several years ago I had the experience of eating pig testicle soup, considered a delicacy by my hosts. When eaten while having a sip of the local beer – not too bad.

In my most recent trip to China this fall I ate cow rumen (rather chewy). At one site the table servings included goose feet and duck tongue. When we were served the local chicken at several sites, it always included both the feet and the head (complete with comb intact).

While we may be hesitant to consume such by-products of our animal production efforts, the fact that they are consumed willingly in other countries adds value to our production. If someone didn’t pay a premium for intact pig ears, or pigs feet or other parts, they would end up in rendering and not contribute much to the overall value.

I’ve seen estimates that our foreign exports of pork products (both high value cuts and by-products such as ears and feet) currently adds over $50 to every pig we sell.

If our border were to close due to the finding of a foreign animal disease in this country, not only would we suddenly have a major over supply of the major pork cuts such as loins and hams. The value of our production would be further diminished as all of these other parts of the carcass that are now going to export markets will suddenly be destined for rendering.

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