Gregg Hora is nothing but optimistic about Iowa’s pork industry.
Hora, who farms near Fort Dodge, Iowa, in Webster County, currently serves as president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. He says despite large supplies and lower prices, opportunities abound in the pork industry.
“What we have built is a production system based on the needs of current and future customers,” Hora says.
Hog numbers are up in Iowa, according to the USDA’s September Hogs and Pigs report. That inventory includes 23.6 million pigs in Iowa, a record high in the state and 4 percent higher than a year ago.
Roughly 39 percent of the nation’s pigs are raised in Iowa. Only two other states — North Carolina and Minnesota — have a pig inventory larger than 8 million head.
Rounding out the top five are Illinois and Indiana.
Hora says the opportunity for growth is there due to several factors, including increased packing capacity in Iowa and the Midwest, as well as strong export demand.
There are concerns over retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada and Mexico after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on several items those countries export into the U.S., Hora says. But the announcement of the reworked NAFTA agreement, now known as USMCA (U.S.-Mexico-
Canada Agreement), has commodity groups hoping the tariffs will be eliminated.
Trade with China has also been affected by tariffs.
“We encourage the Trump administration and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to meet with Chinese negotiators, to give us the opportunity to sell into China and Hong Kong,” Hora says.
A new agreement with South Korea should also help pork exports, he says.
The optimism comes despite financial losses in the industry. Lee Schulz, Extension livestock marketing economist at Iowa State University, estimates
farrow-to-finish producers will be losing nearly $8.50 per head in the fourth quarter.
Schulz says while numbers continue to grow in Iowa, any aggressive expansion is likely over.
“The expansion projects that have been planned are most likely still in the works because breeding numbers are still up,” Schulz says. “We are still in the expansion phase, but there is some restraint.”
He says sustained profitability helped encourage the construction of the Seaboard Triumph plant in Sioux City and the Prestage plant near Eagle Grove, which is scheduled to start processing pigs later this year.
“That period from 2014 to 2016 really encouraged long-term investment,” Schulz says.
He says while the pork cycle remains in play, the peaks and valleys will be much less severe.
“We’ve seen it over the past decade, but we don’t see the large swings in inventories anymore,” Schulz says.
Hora says there are other positive signs for Iowa’s pork industry. He says pork producers have reduced their carbon footprint, working to improve water quality and to make their operations more environmentally friendly.
Improved biosecurity measures have helped contribute to a more efficient pork industry, Hora adds.
“We are fueled by doing the best job we can,” he says. “We are raising healthy pigs and becoming more efficient on our own farms, and we are also looking at the future.
“By 2050, there will be 9 billion people in the world. We will continue to see increased interest in U.S. pork for years to come.”