Connecting producers and consumers from Illinois, across the U.S. and internationally can be as simple as getting them all in the same place at the same time. Once a year, the Illinois Department of Agriculture sponsors the Illinois Pork Tour, an opportunity for producers across the state to connect with pork industry executives, buyers and others in the international industry.
“Pork production and livestock production in general can be very confining,” says Bobby Dowson of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “Alot of producers stay on their farms and take care of daily business many more hours than an eight-to-five job. The World Pork Expo is a place where domestic and international producers make time to see the latest in technologies to better their operations back home.”
Held in conjunction with the annual World Pork Expo each year, the Illinois Pork Tour brings in potential buyers from around the world and showcases the Illinois swine industry – ranked fourth nationally – and its products, including breeding pigs, semen, feed ingredients, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, equipment and other services such as hedging and trading commodities.
“It is very time and cost effective,” Dowson says. “The Illinois Pork Tour is important to Illinois swine operations and agribusinesses because we bring the buyers to them. We have averaged nearly $750,000 in sales from each annual tour in the last 20 years.”
A Safe Learning Environment
The Illinois Pork Tour also provides producers the opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another. “Some small improvement or different way of doing something can improve a swine operation immensely,” Dowson says.
Prairie State Semen has participated in the tour for nearly two decades , and has benefited from the connections and from the exchange of knowledge with visitors to its Champaign breeding and genetics facility.
“We have provided basic knowledge of purebred genetics, modern laboratory practices and cloning over the past 18 years,” says Jon Fisher, president of Prairie State Semen.
Maintaining positive relationships with trading partners is critical for the future of the pork industry, Dowson says. “Over the past several years, various questions have been raised about modern agriculture and current production practices. The pork industry believes that it can strongly benefit by demonstrating how they care for their animals, operate their farms and positively impact their local communities.”
The pork tours have helped several farms and agribusinesses, both large and small, export products internationally. Prairie State Semen has seen an increase in sales to Mexico from participants on the tour, and has exported about $12,000 in semen to one distributor in Central Mexico in the past two years for artificial insemination, Dowson says.
“Opening our doors helps the Illinois Department of Agriculture put on a good tour, which helps everyone involved in the long-run,” Fisher says. “We had a $7,500 frozen semen order from last year’s tour, which made me even more grateful for that opportunity.”