The Road to Mexico
By Rachel Peabody
Meet Brock Willard.
He’s a soybean, corn and hog farmer that operates with his grandfather and uncle outside of Griggsville, Ill. He’s also one of the Illinois Soybean Association’s (ISA) Soy Ambassadors, a leadership program sponsored by ISA checkoff and membership programs.
During the two-year Soy Ambassador experience, participants gain leadership expertise, industry exposure and global perspective. Willard and his classmates traveled to Mexico in January 2020 to follow a unique journey for Illinois soybeans – the path from Illinois soybean fields and Illinois fed hogs to the meat markets of Mexico.
From Illinois Fields & Barns…
Willard and his family contract finish more than 10,000 pigs annually in Pike and Adams counties. They have a 5,200-head capacity they turn over twice a year. They are a wean-to-finish operation, meaning pigs come in at around 13 pounds and are finished to 280-290 pounds. From there, the majority of their hogs are delivered to the Farmland Foods facility in Monmouth, Ill.
For Willard, the hog industry is in his blood.
“My grandpa started raising pigs in a farrow-to-finish operation. We moved over to contract finishing in the mid-to-late 1990s during a tougher economic time for hogs,” says Willard. “We’ve kept with it because we like the economics and it’s a good equity builder. It’s allowed my uncle and me to come back to the farm. We expanded the hog operation again in 2015.”
As a soybean farmer, Willard understands that it takes good protein to grow good protein.
“On average, soybean meal makes up 200 pounds per ton of the swine ration,” says Bart Borg, director of nutrition for Standard Nutrition Services.
That’s why Willard values quality soybean meal as a main component of his feed ration. In fact, 92 percent of the soybean meal fed in Illinois goes to pork and poultry rations, reinforcing why ISA promotes to others that chickens and pigs are the top customer of soybeans.
…to Mexico’s Meat Markets
“Typically, Mexico is the number one importer of U.S. pork by volume,” says Andrew Larson, ISA’s marketing and membership manager. “According to the Pork Checkoff, Mexico purchased 1.56 billion pounds of U.S. pork in 2019, underscoring why maintaining that market is so important. ISA’s relationship with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) in Mexico allows for us to work on increasing product demand there.”
According to USMEF, the most popular imported pork product from the U.S. is bone-in hams, and second to that, variety meats like tripe. Leticia Flores, communications specialist for USMEF Mexico, says the country has potential to increase pork consumption per capita.
“ISA has been a tremendous partner in helping us develop new markets, in new regions and to encourage more use of U.S. pork,” says Flores. “Some of the ways we are doing this are by executing various communications strategies that promote U.S. pork consumption, like in the form of sales seminars, influencer marketing campaigns, YouTube campaigns and brand activations in baseball stadiums to name a few.” (see related story on page x.)
Changing the perception of pork in Mexico is another goal of USMEF in Mexico.
“For many years, pork was considered just an ingredient, but we are working on changing that. We are working hand in hand with importers to add more value to these pork products so we can make it the center of the plate,” says Flores. “Bottom line is that we are giving more value to the U.S. pork carcass, and that benefits everyone along the value chain.”
Key Takeaways from an Illinois Soybean & Hog Farmer
With a boots-on-the-ground approach, Willard credits the trade mission as an experience that helped him understand the full circle of the soybean-pork relationship with Mexico.
“It was reassuring as a producer to see that they have a good market. The demand is there and one of their main concerns to me as a farmer is that we wouldn’t have the future supply for them,” says Willard. “They view the U.S. meat seal as an indicator to the consumer of a higher quality product. I’m reassured that Mexico’s appetite for pork is only increasing.”