DENVER – Last week, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.) hosted a group of five pork buyers from New Zealand to witness U.S. production and processing practices. New Zealand has emerged as a promising market for U.S. pork, with exports setting a record in 2009 of just over 16 million lbs. valued at $17.2 million.

Iowa was the starting point for the team tour where they visited the JBS pork plant in Marshalltown and the Des Moines headquarters of Townsend Engineering, a leading manufacturer of sausage-making equipment. Next, the group toured the Pine Ridge Farms pork processing plant in Des Moines and the Grimes headquarters of Midwest Premier Foods.

Moving on to Nebraska, the group toured the Farmland pork plant in Crete, Neb. Then they completed a three-day “Pork 101” educational seminar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which included an overview of U.S. pork production, sessions focused on hog selection, pricing, carcass evaluation and grading, and hands-on exercises in pork cutting and sausage making. The team also met last Thursday with Larry Sitzman, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association (N.P.P.A.) and Dr. Donald Levis of the University of Nebraska for a discussion of Nebraska’s pork industry and its important role in the state’s economy.

Brian Tilbrook, operations manager for Leonard’s Superior Smallgoods, a New Zealand-based processor of bacon, ham and sausage products that utilizes U.S. pork, came away very impressed – not only with the scale of the U.S. industry, but also with the quality of U.S. hogs and the professionalism of everyone he encountered during his visit, U.S.M.E.F. relayed. He said his company is always in the market for high-quality, imported pork.

“We run a double shift Monday through Friday,” he said. “We employ roughly around 50 people. We manufacture a wide range of fresh sausage, breakfast sausage, frankfurters and more. We produce a large amount of protein mainly for [foodservice], only a small percent of it goes to the supermarkets. We are a user of US pork.”

Other participants included Greg Beecroft, a Wellington-based production supervisor; William Curd, operations manager for Auckland-based Hobson’s Choice Meat and Bacon Company; Lee Groucott of Rangitikei Meats in Palmerston North; and Garth Wise of Napier-based meat processor Bay Cuisine Limited. The tour was supported in part by the Pork Checkoff and the U.S.D.A. Market Access Program. The Pork Checkoff is also one of the funding partners behind the Pork 101 seminar.