‘When pigs fly,” is not a phrase that Jacob Cluver takes lightly.
As the CEO of Ag World International Corp. in Bloomington, he arranges for pigs to fly — on cargo planes, of course — to farmers, corporations and governments in Asia and around the world.
Yes, you read that right: Flying pigs. He and about a dozen full-time employees in the United States and abroad have been brokers for shipping thousands of pigs, beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep and goats to overseas buyers. The latter value Ag World’s 45 years of experience and trust its reputation for quality and service.
Established in 1977 by Jacob’s father, Bruce Cluver, Ag World has exported livestock to 110 countries on six continents. The younger Cluver grew up in agriculture in El Paso, Illinois, showing animals at the Woodford County Fair and studying small business management and computer science at Iowa State University. He assumed management of the company in 2010.
China is currently Ag World’s largest market and consumes 60% of the world’s pork, half of which it produces itself, Cluver said. China is still recovering from an African Swine Flu outbreak that wiped out up to 70% of the country’s pig population in 2018.
“It’s a very profitable market when it’s there, so we want to take advantage of it when we can,” said Cluver.
But even when trade relations between China and the United States are strained, Ag World looks for ways to do business. “There are always going to be certain topics that we don’t agree on. Our customers realize they can do business with us and not totally agree on everything.”
In July 2022, Ag World chartered two cargo planes to China, transporting 450 pigs on each plane. Historically, they have shipped as many as 1,000 animals per plane. A single transaction like this can set up the entire year, Cluver said. Without a big shipment, the company can suffer. As a result, he has diversified the company’s holding as a hedge against the uncertainties of global trade.
In 2013, Ag World acquired BIO-Genics, which specializes in domestic goat semen and artificial insemination supplies. Working with BIO-Genics, goat farmers can bring new blood lines into their herds without adding new animals. Cluver sees the domestic goat farming market, especially goats for dairy, as one of the company’s most promising growth opportunities.
In 2019, Ag World acquired Renco, a small manufacturer of ultrasound veterinary equipment in Minneapolis. Renco products help livestock producers increase profitability and efficiency, and are sold through resellers in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“Export markets can vary greatly, depending on trade relations, exchange rates and logistics, so we continue to diversify and find things we can offer our customers,” Cluver said.
Exporter of the Year from the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship is not the first accolade for Ag World. The company received the Governor’s Agricultural Business Exporter of the Year recognition in 2013. It is also distinguished by a number of firsts, including the first breeding swine sold to China in 1978, the first water buffalo shipped to the Philippines in 1993, the first chartered 747 airplane of horses to China in 2008, and the largest livestock shipment ever from North America — 3,195 heifers on one ship in 1996.
Ag World has been a client of the Illinois Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) International Trade Center (ITC) at the Turner Center since 2017, when Cluver requested assistance with exploring opportunities in Central and Southeast Asia to diversify export sales.
Most recently, Ag World participated in the ITC’s Getting to Global eCommerce Accelerator, the Illinois State Trade Export Promotion (ISTEP) and a State of Illinois foreign trade mission. Cluver frequently speaks to exporters on the local, state and national levels. In 2020, the ITC nominated him as an Outstanding Exporter Honoree at the 2020 Mid-America Trade Summit.
“We are very honored by this recognition,” said Cluver. “We look forward to continuing to create revenue for the state and the United States and finding new markets around the world.”