If you thought 2010 was a red-hot year for U.S. pork exports, you haven’t seen anything yet. In August, pork exports set a monthly volume record at 186,068 metric tons, and the prospects of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements aren’t even part of that picture.

“The FTAs are great news for the pork industry, but also for all of agriculture and rural America,” says Sam Carney, past National Pork Producers Council president and Iowa pork producer. Carney visited with AgriTalk, which you can access the interview here.

August pork exports were 27 percent higher than last year and claimed 27.3 percent of U.S. hog production, adding $53.98 per hog to producers’ paychecks. All indications are that U.S. pork exports will set new value records in 2011, bypassing the $5 billion mark.

Once the three FTAs are fully implemented—by 2016—Iowa State University estimates show that those exports will add another $11.50 per head or so to producers’ bottom lines.

“It will add new jobs,” says Carney, “and not just in agriculture. It will take a lot more labor to move that product.” That means jobs not just on hog farms, but in trucking, packing plants, shipping and more. “Even sales people to sell the meat,” Carney notes. “It has a ripple effect.”  

With growing global markets, it can be expected that U.S. pork production will eventually expand—“if profitability holds,” Carney adds. Of course, with the FTAs going into effect over the course of 10 to 15 years, that doesn’t mean the floodgates will open tomorrow.

Still, the global demand for pork is on the rise as consumers in other countries shift to higher income categories. “The first thing they want is good food, and they want meat,” Carney says. “U.S. pork is a safe, quality product; so they look to us for product.”

It’s been a lot of hard work to pass FTAs and expand markets, and that’s not likely to end any time soon. “There is a lot of potential out there, a lot of potential we still want to go after,” he adds.