Minnesota Soybean Business

Department Dispatch: Trade opportunities abound

This column is the first in an occasional series in Soybean Business featuring leaders from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Minnesota farmers are pretty much the world’s best when it comes to producing soybeans, corn, and other commodities. Our fertile soil and favorable growing conditions help us produce crops that are the envy of farmers around the world. However, Minnesota’s 5.7 million people consume far less than our farmers grow. As a result, much of our farm production must be sold to consumers in other states and countries.

International exports are especially important for us. Exports contribute over one-third to the state’s total agricultural sales. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota is the fourth-biggest agricultural exporter among all 50 states. According to the most recent data, in November 2022, Minnesota’s overall exports soared by 22%, compared to the 9% nationwide average.

The USDA also reports that Minnesota farm exports support more than 59,000 jobs both on the farm and off the farm in processing, storage, and transportation businesses. That generate close to $16 billion in total economic output.

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Following Gov. Walz’s reelection, Thom Petersen was reappointed to serve a second term as MDA commissioner

These numbers are the result of hard work by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and federal and state partners to establish beneficial trade relationships that have resulted in increased market opportunities.

For example, several months ago, MDA Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel, MDA International Trade Representative Jeff Phillips, and MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek participated in a USDA agribusiness trade mission to Spain. The country is the fourth largest economy in the European Union. Soybeans comprise the majority of U.S. agricultural exports to Spain – $485.9 million in soybeans and $73.8 million in soybean meal in 2021.

Members of the delegation engaged directly with potential buyers from Spain and Portugal, received in-depth market briefs from USDA and industry trade experts, and visited key sites.

Following the visit to Spain, Smentek, Vaubel, and Phillips continued onto Morocco in North Africa to further talks with the country’s largest animal feed importer and promote soy exports via the Port of Duluth and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System.

While the benefits may not yield immediate results, we know work like this pays off long term. From 2000 to 2020, Minnesota’s total agricultural export more than tripled – higher than the national growth rate. Nurturing relationships is key to this growth.

For instance, our longstanding trade discussions over the years with Taiwan have resulted in many benefits for Minnesota farmers. The latest came in September 2022 when members of the Taiwanese agriculture industry and Soybean Growers representatives signed Letters of Intent outlining Taiwan’s intended purchases of $2 billion of soybean products from Minnesota suppliers.

It is important we continue to look to our established partners, like Taiwan, and developing markets, such as Spain and Morocco, for new opportunities. We have made great strides in 2022, and we look forward to partnering with MSGA to make more in-roads and forge new deals in 2023.

Thom Petersen is Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Follow him on Twitter at @ThommyPetersen.


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