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Minnesota ag exports to China seeing growth

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's 81,000 farm families stand to be some of the most valuable players in our 21st-century economy. This is because they are a primary lifeline connecting Minnesota's economy to the fast-growing economies of China and other de...

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's 81,000 farm families stand to be some of the most valuable players in our 21st-century economy. This is because they are a primary lifeline connecting Minnesota's economy to the fast-growing economies of China and other developing countries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a report showing that U.S. farm exports reached an all-time high of $75 billion during the first half of the 2011 federal fiscal year. That's a 27 percent increase over the same period last year and indicates that the country is well on its way to achieving USDA's export forecast of $135.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

Minnesota's farm economy gets a major bump from exports, which now comprise nearly one-third of the state's total agricultural sales. Overseas trade also solidifies economic and cultural connections to key developing countries such as China, where "USA" is seen as a brand indicating high-quality, safe and nutritious food.

Minnesota market

In the last decade, Minnesota's agricultural community has stepped up efforts to build its own distinct brand in China and other emerging markets. These efforts are paying off, as the latest figures show Minnesota ag exports to China grew by 500 percent in the 10-year period from 2000 to 2009. At the start of that decade, China was the fourth- biggest export market for Minnesota farm products. By 2009, China had jumped to the top spot, surpassing such longtime trading partners as Canada, Japan and Mexico. Today, the average Minnesota farmer produces enough food to feed 130 people around the world - including 26 in China.

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At the same time Minnesota farmers are feeding China's massive and increasingly prosperous population, they also are helping to reinvigorate Minnesota's economy by connecting it to the expanding global marketplace. This link is an important asset for Minnesota at a time when the economy is in a slow recovery from recession. The true value of this export link becomes apparent when you look at the jobs impact. At last report, agricultural exports supported more than 1 million American jobs and 32,000 jobs here in Minnesota. With so many concerns about the migration of jobs to other countries, agriculture remains an industry that is firmly -- and literally -- rooted in rural Minnesota.

Growing part

Our agricultural sector is an economic treasure that we must protect and enhance. At the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, we will continue to support this vital economic link in multiple ways. For example, we will continue to help Minnesota maintain its stellar reputation for food safety by conducting our food regulatory programs with integrity and transparency. We will work with young people to make it easier for them to get into farming. And we will encourage stronger trade links by aggressively developing export markets for our ag products in China and other promising markets.

It's a big responsibility to feed the world while boosting the state's economy. Our farmers and ranchers are up to the challenge, and thanks to the diversity of Minnesota's agriculture sector, we are meeting and exceeding expectations.

Editor's Note: Frederickson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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