DENVER – Pork producer Leon Sheets and cattleman Ed Greiman, who were part of an Iowa agricultural delegation that recently visited South Korea on a trade mission, came away impressed with recent gains US pork and beef have made in South Korea. They were also convinced opportunities in this market will be greater when the Korea-US Free-Trade Agreement is ratified, according to the US Meat Export Federation.

Through the first four months of 2011, South Korea has been the third-largest value market for US pork – increasing by 245 percent over last year to nearly $240 million. It has been the second-largest value market for US beef at $284 million – an increase of more than 150 percent over the first four months of 2010.

A recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak has taken a severe toll on South Korea’s swine industry, creating an even greater need for imported pork. said Sheets, who owns a diversified farming operation near Ionia, Iowa, and serves as president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

“US pork is in more stores, thanks in part to the groundwork efforts of folks at USMEF,” he said. “They’re not [totally] self sufficient so they require about 30 percent or more of their meat from somewhere else to fulfill the demand for pork products for their consumers. Particularly this year with the devastation that country has taken from the FMD to sustain the animal protein their consumers are needing of their losses to their swine operations-- even if they started today to get the extra animals in, if they are going to import the animals, they are only going to import 40 to 60 lb. pigs. By the time the animals get in and they grow to breeding age, and by the time we get that offspring into the market system, you’re going to be looking at close to a year-and-a-half before they are putting significant numbers back into the their food chain system.”

Greiman, of Garner, Iowa, and president-elect of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, spent a lot of time in South Korea speaking with meat buyers and conducting several interviews with South Korean media. He placed a heavy emphasis on the safety of US beef. Although US beef has gained much greater acceptance from South Korean consumers in recent years, safety remains a lingering concern, Greiman said.

“[The meat buyers] tell me that BSE [bovines spongiform encephalopathy] is not a concern from them, but for some reason it is for the general public,” he said. “The safety of US beef is second to none and somehow we have to relate that because that was one questions during the interviews they talked to me about ... beef safety. They had me rank beef safety, quality and profitability. I said, ‘It’s simple. Safety is No. one; quality is No. two; and yes, I need to be profitable, but I will be profitable by taking care of the first two areas.”