Iowa hog farmer nurtures international relations

Mennonite Central Committee
Friday, 14 September 2001

WELLMAN, Iowa -- Talking over the noise of squealing baby pigs, Mennonite hog farmer Dean Shetler and a four-member agriculture delegation from North Korea discussed hog raising techniques here Aug. 31. The nursery provided space for a warm exchange between people from countries whose political relationships are often icy.

Shetler is part owner and full-time manager of Wellman Feeder Pig, which breeds and raises hogs until they weigh 45 pounds. These "feeder pigs" are then sent elsewhere to be prepared for market. Wellman Feeder Pig produces some 30,000 hogs each year.

"Our goal is to see what the modern swine farm in the United States looks like," said delegate Dr. Ri Song Jo, Deputy Ministry of Agriculture for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), also called North Korea.

"The climate here is similar to what we have back in Korea, so whatever success our delegation finds here can be used in our country," he said. According to Dr. Ri, swine types in North Korea are also similar to Shetler's, but U.S. facilities rely much more on computers.

The group spent the morning touring the farm and taking notes on machinery, techniques and floor plans, asking Shetler detailed questions about each aspect of the operation.

"They gobble up information," remarked Lee Wheeler, an agriculturalist with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) who hosted the delegation on a 15-day study tour of hog facilities in the Midwest.

The group hopes to return to North Korea with plans for a facility at least four times the size of Wellman Feeder Pig, Wheeler said.

Prior to their stop in Iowa, the group spent one week at the University of Missouri, Columbia. The American Friends Service Committee arranged and funded the tour.

As he led the group into the nursery, Wheeler bent to spray off the boots of Dr. Pak Chung Nam, a researcher and agricultural engineer. After leaving the nursery, Dr. Pak returned the favor in an impromptu footwashing that perhaps bodes well for the continuing development of relationships between North America and North Korea.

North Korea has suffered famine conditions since the mid-1990s, due to natural disasters, political isolation and infrastructure decay. Recently the North Korean public distribution system cut daily rations from 200 to 100 grams of rice.

"They're scraping the bottom of the barrel," said Wheeler.

MCC has contributed more than $10 million Cdn./$6.5 million U.S. to North Korea since 1996, including shipments of canned meat, school and health kits and support for four experimental farms.

Following their stay in Wellman, the delegation visited an Old Order Amish farm near Kalona, Iowa. They then traveled to Kansas to join in a potluck dinner at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, visit the MCC Central States office and meet with MCC constituents in North Newton and tour additional farms.

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