• WisBusiness

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ben Brancel: Wisconsin's agricultural exports headed in right direction


By Ben Brancel
The world's population and economies are growing and the demand for food and agricultural products is growing with them. Wisconsin's reputation for producing a diverse number of safe and high quality products puts our state in a unique position of being able to supply what the world is demanding.

It also gives us an economic boost here at home. In 2011, agricultural exports had a total value of $2.85 billion. It was a record setting year. As Governor Scott Walker said when making that announcement, "It is important we look to markets beyond our borders as one important strategy to produce job-creating growth for Wisconsin."

The recently released first quarter agricultural export numbers tell us we are headed in the right direction. In the first 3 months of this year, Wisconsin exported $700-million worth of agricultural products to more than 100 countries. That's a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2011. We now rank 15th in the nation in first quarter exports. Last year, we were 18th for the same 3 months.

In order to keep agricultural exports growing, we need to help Wisconsin businesses find overseas opportunities and advise them on how to build and maintain relationships with trade partners. That's exactly what the Wisconsin International Trade Team at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is doing.

In the first quarter of 2012, Wisconsin dairy producers and processors exported $64-million worth of dairy products to other countries, a 23 percent increase over the same quarter last year. The world-wide demand for ethanol and global market conditions increased Wisconsin's ethanol exports in the first quarter of 2012. Wisconsin exported $75 million of ethanol during this period, making Wisconsin the second largest ethanol exporter in the nation. To give you an idea of the impact international markets can have, there's one ethanol producer in western Wisconsin that ships at least 40 percent of its ethanol product to Canada.

Opening new markets and increasing international market share for Wisconsin companies is one of Governor Walker's priorities. At the governor's urging, the International Trade Teams at DATCP and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are working on new opportunities.

For example, this fall, the DATCP Team will welcome two Vietnamese feed buyers who will be attending the Asian Feed Buyers Mission to World Dairy Expo for the first time. They will meet one-on-one with Wisconsin and Midwest feed exporters in hopes of developing new business relationships. This comes after our trade trip to Vietnam this past January and a visit to Madison in April by the Vietnamese Ambassador to the Unites States who met with us to specifically talk about future trade opportunities.

In June we're bringing in a Colombian buyer to attend the Food Export Association's Feed Buyers Mission in Madison. This Colombian company is looking for a variety of value-added feed products. The new U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement that went in to effect this month means certain agricultural products will have immediate duty-free access. Products such as wheat, barley, soybeans, high-quality beef, bacon, almost all fruits and vegetables, whey products and a majority of processed food products. These are all items we produce here in Wisconsin. Businesses should take advantage of these opportunities and the International Trade Team here at DATCP can help them do that.

Wisconsin agricultural producers and processors, especially the small to medium sized businesses, should not feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing businesses overseas. The DATCP International Trade Team offers market research and development, business counseling, international promotion opportunities and educational seminars like the one being held July 11 in Madison. "Exploring Exports: The World is Waiting" is a free seminar where business owners thinking about selling products internationally can hear what's worked for other companies currently exporting. You can get more information on that event by contacting Lisa Stout at 608-224-5126 or email at lisa.stout@wi.gov.

Team members also work constantly with potential international buyers and agencies in an effort to open doors of opportunity and find out how Wisconsin companies can start building the relationships needed for a successful exporting enterprise or help companies already doing business overseas expand and increase market share.

As Governor Walker has said, we need to look beyond our borders in order to keep agriculture a major economic driver in our state. Trade expansion encourages investment and economic growth here at home from the farm to the plants where our farm products are processed. I encourage companies of all sizes to seriously consider entering or expanding their presence in the international marketplace by taking advantage of the available resources. The Wisconsin International Trade Team at DATCP is ready to help you take that first step.

-- Brancel is the secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

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