Minnesota Soybean Business

Department Dispatch: Trade opportunities open Minnesota to the world

By Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen

A new year provides a fresh start and new opportunities. I see a lot of potential for agriculture as we move into 2024. One of those areas we’re focused on at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is international trade. There’s been a lot of movement on that front lately, and I see more possibilities to come.

First, some good news on Minnesota’s role in feeding the world. The state’s agricultural exports were worth a record $10 billion in 2022, up 7% from 2021. That’s according to USDA data released in late October 2023. The record helped the state maintain the rank of fourth largest agricultural export state in the nation. A whopping 80% of Minnesota’s agricultural exports are plant-based products (with the remaining 20% as animal products). Soybeans lead the charge with $2.9 billion in exports, up 19% from 2021. Rounding out the top five, corn comes in at $1.7 billion in exports, animal feed with $1.1 billion, pork at $907 million, and the category of “other plant products” at $634 million.

Trade missions help boost those export numbers, and we had many successful missions in 2023. In November 2023, I joined Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) President Bob Worth and Executive Director Joe Smentek on a trade mission to Australia, where an ag delegation made in-roads into the “land down under.” Australia is currently 13th on Minnesota’s list of top countries buying exports from the state; however, we’ve never led an official business delegation to the country.

Our work on overseas markets will only increase with the help of funding secured in the 2023 legislative session. With support from MSGA, the MDA received new, sustaining funding for a full-time international trade representative based at the department. This new staff member, who will likely start sometime in January, will focus on trade missions and international marketing support. Demand for these services have outgrown our current capacity, so another employee will allow us to continue to prioritize these efforts.

The USDA is also stepping up worldwide agricultural promotional efforts with its new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program, or RAPP. USDA is providing up to $300 million in funding in RAPP’s first year to support projects that enable exporters to break into new markets and increase market share in growth markets. Investing in non-traditional markets will help the U.S. move away from dependence on a handful of large markets and is a way to spread out risk against global market shocks. USDA analysis has shown that for every $1 invested by USDA’s Foreign Ag Service in export market development, exports are increased by $24.50.

The bottom line at the state and federal level is this: Trade promotion investment helps keep existing markets open and creates access to new markets. That’s why we’re looking at missions to Morocco (where I’m headed in January alongside Joe Smentek and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council Chair Gene Stoel), Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan for 2024. More could be added.

There are many promising items on the horizon as we come off a record export year with new investments coming into the state. I look forward to continuing our relationship with soybean growers across Minnesota in 2024 and working together with the MDA to boost trade opportunities for our farmers across the globe.


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