Let's make a deal

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Big Iron XXXI hosted some 80,000 people during its three-day run, and at least one in 600 or so were special visitors from foreign countries.

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Big Iron XXXI hosted some 80,000 people during its three-day run, and at least one in 600 or so were special visitors from foreign countries.

Dean Gorder, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office, says about 140 visitors from 12 countries were in North Dakota for the agricultural trade show. This year, the show was heavily coordinated with Romania, Uruguay, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Others were Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, France, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico and Russia.

These kinds of trade visits were started in 2007, conceived during a state trade mission to Ukraine and Russia, by now-Gov. Jack Dalrymple and others. The North Dakotans decided that it would be a better investment for North Dakota to get potential buyers of farm equipment back into North Dakota as a way to close deals and do business.

"The idea was to get them face-to-face here," Gorder says. "It's one thing to go over there and hold yourself out as a great person from North Dakota -- whatever the impression is -- but it's another thing to get the buyers here. When they visit here, they can see a consistency of the Upper Midwest ethic. Many of our businesses here are family-owned by the second, third or fourth generations that are operating them. The comfort of the buyer goes way up."

ND face time


The North Dakota Trade Office puts about $75,000 annually into the International Visitors Program, which pays mostly for some travel coordination for the visitors to come, but also receptions and transportation while they're in the Fargo, N.D., area. The visitors' transportation and accommodations are paid for by their governments or their companies. It's one of the key events for the state trade office, which has nine staff -- six among offices in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks and then three others abroad.

Once the trade office verifies the visitors are potential customers, the agency organizes a series of events around Big Iron. About 30 of Big Iron's 800 or so exhibitors are involved directly with the trade office visit. Many times, the North Dakota companies use the tour as a way to bring potential buyers to their facilities in the area.

This year, the events included a reception at the governor's farm near Casselton, N.D., among other things. The trade office also brought in some Native American dancers for one of the events, offering a cultural experience

"The core of this event is North Dakota companies getting access to this group of buyers," Gorder says.

An example of this year's delegation included a high-level group from Romania, led by Otilia Manta, a woman who is president and chief executive officer of the Romanian Group for Investments and Consultancy. Manta is working on a project designed to modernize Romanian agriculture for about 500 farmers in that country.

Romania interest

"Romanian agriculture is very similar to what we have here," says Tom Wollin, the NDTO director of agricultural equipment. "The valley areas they have are growing similar crops -- wheat, barley, rapeseed and sunflowers.. They want to get into corn and soybeans. It's a little warmer there, but if you move further north, you get into canola, just like we see more of that as we go further toward Canada."

North Dakota's Big Iron event is unique across North America because the state is No. 1 in about 14 crops, involving many of the prime commodities but also the specialty crops grown in the countries represented in the visit, Gorder says.


Manta visited the Red River Valley two years ago and decided to launch an effort to bring North American technology home to Romanian farmers, especially family-sized farmers.

Her company has created an "association," which operates like a cooperative, especially as a combined purchasing power of equipment and technology. For this year's Big Iron visit, Manta was accompanied by a group of 25 people, including members of an organization analogous to Federal Reserve Bank, one from the Central Bank of Romania's financing division, and even the federal government's deputy agriculture minister.

Romania still is feeling the after-effects of communism.

Manta's Romanian program offers a "turn-key package" for qualified farm applicants. It includes buildings, grain bins, equipment, seed and agronomic services and training. The farmers themselves are responsible for 15 to 20 percent of the total investment. Any owned land can be used as a collateral, for example.

About two-thirds of Romanian land that is potentially farmable land is sitting idle, after it was turned over to people who had worked on state farms after communism.

"Prior to the fall of communism they were self-sufficient agriculturally," Gorder says. Now they are importing a lot of these commodities and they want to be self-sufficient. As a future member o the European Union, they want to have export capability."

Group purchasing

Manta's company is coordinating a program that is focused on "family farmers," of about 1,000 to 3,000 acres. To enroll, the farm must have children of the current manager who want to continue in farming. Those children need to be attending an agricultural technical school or a research school to acquire a bachelor's degree. Romanian officials are working with North Dakota State University in Fargo to develop master's degree programs for students who will become agronomists and researchers back in Romania.


North Dakota entities involved are machinery manufactures, building manufactures and grain handling and storage manufacturers as well as providers of other agricultural services, as well as NDSU and the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States acts as a conduit for payments for U.S. goods.

Gorder says some farmers still wonder whether it is wise to encourage North Dakota agricultural companies to sell their technology to countries such as Romania. Gorder says it's a fact that agriculture in those countries will modernize whether North Dakota companies are selling the equipment or not, so it is important that the companies here are part of it.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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