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USMEF Conference Concludes with Officer Elections, Logistics Update

Published: Nov 10, 2023

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Strategic Planning Conference wrapped up Friday, Nov. 10, in New Orleans with the election of a new officer team. Randy Spronk, a pork and grain producer from Edgerton, Minn., is the new USMEF chair.

A past president of National Pork Producers Council and Minnesota Pork Producers Association, Spronk is president and managing partner for Spronk Brothers Holding, which includes operations that produce pork and feedgrains along with feed milling and delivery. Spronk is also part of a group of producers that purchased a former Hormel plant and is marketing pork products under the label of Wholestone Foods.

“It's phenomenal to see how different organizations work together through USMEF to export U.S. beef, pork and lamb worldwide,” Spronk said. “We bring all the sectors together into one room and discuss trade. What are the obstacles? What are the things we've done right?”

New USMEF Chair Randy Spronk addresses members at the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference in New Orleans

Spronk has participated in numerous trade missions, beginning with a 1999 journey to Japan with then-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. He made his first return to Japan this year as part of a USMEF delegation that also visited South Korea. Spronk has also promoted U.S. red meat products in several Latin American markets while on trade missions and during USMEF product showcases in Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic. These experiences have driven home the importance of market diversification, ensuring that the U.S. meat industry is not overly dependent on a few major destinations.

Diversification, which Spronk says is the key to maximizing export value, is one of the “Three Ds” he emphasized in his address to USMEF members: DIVERSIFICATION of export markets and DIFFERENTIATION of high-quality U.S. meat, to expand global DEMAND.

“Having multiple markets will bring more value back to our producers,” Spronk said. “We also have to differentiate what we do in the United States from others so that we have long-term growth in our markets. I think we have a strong story to tell on sustainability and it can help differentiate us, because of how responsibly we produce our feed and livestock. It’s a story that nobody else in the world can replicate.”

(left to right) USMEF Chair Randy Spronk, Chair-elect Steve Hanson, Vice Chair Jay Theiler and Secretary/Treasurer David Bruntz

Spronk succeeds outgoing USMEF Chair Dean Meyer, a corn, soybean and livestock producer from Rock Rapids, Iowa. Steve Hanson, a cattle rancher from southwestern Nebraska who is also president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, will serve as USMEF chair-elect in the coming year. The vice chair is Jay Theiler, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Agri Beef, based in Boise, Idaho. 

The newest USMEF officer is Secretary/Treasurer David Bruntz, a farmer and cattle feeder from Friend, Neb. Bruntz farms with his brother and nephew, raising corn and soybeans along with fed cattle. His past leadership roles include serving as chair of the Nebraska Corn Board, president of the Nebraska Cattlemen and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association regional vice president. Bruntz has also served on the USMEF Executive Committee, representing the feedgrains sector.

Friday’s closing business session also included an update on transportation and logistics issues that impact U.S. pork, beef and lamb exports. Mark Szakonyi, executive editor for the Journal of Commerce, reviewed the Federal Maritime Commission’s (FMC) progress in implementing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. The legislation passed in mid-2022 but the FMC is still working through key rulemakings mandated by Congress on detention and demurrage billing practices and the circumstances in which ocean carriers may refuse cargo. Szakonyi also previewed upcoming negotiations on a new labor contract for East and Gulf Coast longshoremen.

Journal of Commerce Executive Editor Mark Szakonyi updates USMEF members on implementation of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act
Greg Shimonek of Americold Logistics discusses options for transporting meat products by rail

Greg Shimonek, director of key accounts for Americold Logistics, informed USMEF members about the growing number of options for moving meat and other refrigerated food products by rail. To date these services have been limited to transport within the U.S. market and to coastal ports for export, but Americold is working with Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railroad and regulatory officials to accommodate direct transport to destinations in Mexico. This type of service is of increasing interest to exporters due to heightening congestion at some U.S.-Mexico border crossings.

Thursday’s activities included meetings of USMEF’s standing committees, where USMEF international staff and other speakers updated attendees on issues of particular interest to the pork, beef, exporter and feedgrain and oilseed sectors. USMEF members also toured the Port of New Orleans and nearby cold storage facilities operated by Lineage Logistics.

Also on Thursday, USMEF presented its Michael J. Mansfield Award to former ambassador to China and longtime Iowa governor Terry Branstad. Bill Westman, who had a long career with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service and later directed international affairs for the North American Meat Institute, received the USMEF Distinguished Service Award. More details on these awards are available from the USMEF website.

Ambassador Terry Branstad receives the Michael J. Mansfield Award from outgoing USMEF Chair Dean Meyer

Bill Westman accepts the USMEF Distinguished Service Award for his many years of service with USDA and the North American Meat Institute

Highlights from opening day of the USMEF Strategic Planning Conference are detailed in this news release.

USMEF members will next meet May 22-24 at the federation’s Spring Conference in Kansas City.