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Minnesota farmers are in good position for 2013

When I became the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in 2011, I resolved to continue the good work this agency had been doing with regard to international trade. Like other commissioners who came before me, I understood that Minnesota's farm and food sector needed to expand its visibility and market share in the fast-growing international markets of Asia and Latin America.

Two years in, I am pleased to say that we are making good progress. New figures from the Minnesota Trade Office show Minnesota exports of agricultural, mining and manufactured products reached a record $5.1 billion in the third quarter of 2012. State exports for the third quarter increased by 1 percent compared with the same period from 2011. This marked the eighth straight quarter of record exports in Minnesota.

MDA's own economic studies show Minnesota's agricultural exports hit a record $6.8 billion last year. This is up 13 percent or about $750 million over the previous year. Agriculture is well-established as Minnesota's second-largest exporting sector, with major markets in China, Mexico, Japan and Canada. Minnesota now ranks sixth among all states in agricultural exports.

These impressive numbers are due to a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and it all starts with our farmers and agricultural companies. MDA's role is to help the farm and food sector identify and develop market opportunities. This role is especially important in Asia, where cultures place great importance on face-to-face communication, and where government officials are seen as important ambassadors for the private sector. We have taken this role to heart, organizing five major trade missions since the beginning of last year. MDA analyses indicate that every dollar we invest in a trade mission yields $120 for the state's economy.

Of course, Minnesota isn't the only state pursuing these markets. Every other major ag state is working hard to do the same thing, so we need to keep building on our success if we don't want to be beaten out by those Hawkeyes, Buckeyes or Badgers. A team of MDA staff and others wrapped up a week-long trade development mission to the Philippines and Indonesia, two fast-growing nations in southeast Asia that sometimes get overlooked in the face of more prominent markets such as China and India.

I am particularly thankful that Governor Dayton has a clear understanding of the importance of international trade development, and has expressed strong support for our efforts. During the 2012 trade mission to China, Governor Dayton frequently started out meetings by describing all that Minnesota's farm and food sector had to offer. His active support is a vital asset that we will continue to look for opportunities to employ.

We don't know what is in store for 2013 in terms of weather or economics, but I do know Minnesota farmers are in as good a position as any farmers anywhere in the world thanks to their own hard work and the sustained efforts of Minnesota's commodity organizations, ag groups, MDA and other agencies working on their behalf.