FAIRBURY – After nine trips in 14 months, Dr. Ray Hankes has gained plenty of knowledge on Russia.
The current Gibson City resident works in the meat processing industry and does contract work with a large family-owned operation. Cherkizovo Group is the largest meat producer in Russia and Hankes is responsible for food safety, modernizing facilities and operational efficiency.
“When I am there, I spend a lot of time in a vehicle,” Hankes told members of the Fairbury Rotary Club on Tuesday.
When visiting Russia, Hankes flies into Moscow but the plants he works with are located in Penza and Dankov. The country has 11 time zones and the same size GDP as the state of New York. Moscow is the largest city in Europe with 12.1 million citizens.
“COVID is bad at Moscow, but we don’t know how bad,” Hankes said.
Russia did not see the supply chain disruption the U.S. did, as the individuals in plants don’t move around as much and don’t arrive in buses or the same vehicle. Also, farming looks a bit different in the country.
“Last year, the soybeans averaged 22 bushels per acre in Russia,” explained Hankes. “They have a shorter growing season.”
Hankes is impressed with the modern pig transportation and sanitary knives, although there is a big contrast between the Russian metro areas and the countryside. The winters tend to be very dark and dreary and the work habits of the Russian people are interesting.
Not only does Cherkizovo Group harvest around 8,000 pigs a day and grow its own feed, the company also supplies most of the chicken to KFC restaurants there, as there are plenty around Moscow.
“The American companies have done a really good job of penetrating the market,” Hankes observed.
In addition to his farming career, Hankes received his PhD and worked for IBP, which was later purchased by Tyson. He has lived in several locations around the country before moving back to Central Illinois. Hankes’ wife, Ellen, grew up here.
More recently, Hankes oversaw food safety and animal protection for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. He was in charge of meat inspections at the 135 state plants.