Dermot Hayes has seen his share of change during 31 years of studying trade and exports at Iowa State University. During that time, the U.S. transitioned from a net pork importer to a world-class exporter, and Hayes participated in that evolution. He helped pave the way for the U.S. pork industry’s leadership in exports by identifying emerging markets and serving as ambassador on countless trade missions.
Born in Ireland, Hayes’ parents had a small farm, growing beef and barley. During college one summer, he worked on a neighbor’s hog farm.
“It’s the only job I’d had that I was sorry when 5 p.m. came because I enjoyed working with the animals. The owner allowed me to keep some runts, and my father provided the feed, so I made some money off of them,” Hayes says. He was studying agriculture in college but after working on the farm, he decided to specialize in swine husbandry and economics.
The Irish economy was not doing well when Hayes graduated so he went to graduate school at the University of California in Berkeley, where he earned a doctorate in agricultural and resource economics. He came to Iowa State University in March of 2006 and has been there since then.
Having a background in pork production was useful to Hayes’ career: His training in economics and his practical experience in pork production positioned him to be a consulting trade economist for the National Pork Producers Council and to work with the National Pork Board. The industry has funded many international study trips and Hayes has visited almost every important pork-consuming country in the world.
In this Q&A, he reflects on the evolution of the pork export market, sharing his thoughts on policy, market growth, challenges and opportunities.
Q: Where does the U.S. stand on competitiveness?
Hayes: We have the second lowest cost of production. The lowest is Matto Grosso in Brazil, and ours is next. Matto Grosso is not part of the world economy, though, because they have Foot and Mouth disease (FMD). We are lowest for countries that are eligible to export.
Canada is very competitive for sows but not as competitive for feeding pigs, so we pull ahead of Canada if you look at farrow to finish production.
Q: What are some of the pivotal moments you’ve seen in terms of the pork industry?
Hayes: When I came here, I started doing competitiveness studies and asked the question: Why do we export so much grain and yet import meat? The answer was we needed to export more meat. My job was funded to study exactly that, through the Meat Export Research Center, and to see what could be done policy-wise to improve export of livestock products.
Fortunately for me, there were a series of free trade agreements that worked. We had the Uruguay round of the World Trade Organization, and we had free trade negotiations with a lot of different countries.
What held back our meat exports were trade barriers. Countries like Korea and Japan were importing our grains, but not our meat. They would allow the grains to enter duty-free but not the meats. As we signed more and more agreements, our exports of beef and pork did what we expected them to do—they increased pretty significantly.
For pork, almost 30% of our production is being exported if you include variety meats and processed pork.
Editor's Note: We'll have additional excerpts from our interview with Hayes in the next several days.