Global Economy Puts Michigan Agricultural Products on World Stage

Michigan exports almost one-third of the crops grown here, with the top five agricultural exports being soybeans, feed grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.

LANSING —The global economy continues to change and expand creating more opportunities for Michigan’s food and agriculture products. Michigan’s agricultural diversity — more than 200 commodities — and the associated processing, puts us in a strong position to take advantage of these global opportunities.

Countries, such as China, have a growing middle class; and with that growth comes a hunger for new products like dried cherries, blueberries, cheese, and so much more. The growing middle class combined with the opening of the Michigan Center Office in Shanghai makes this a great time for Michigan’s food and agriculture companies to consider testing the waters in trade and export.

Currently, Michigan exports almost one-third of the crops grown here, with the top five agricultural exports being soybeans, feed grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. The top five countries eager for Michigan-grown products are Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea, and China.

While the prospect of exporting can seem daunting, there are countless reasons why Michigan’s food and agriculture companies should consider it. First and foremost is that about 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. So if a company is only selling in the domestic market, it’s only reaching a small share of the potential customer base — the growth opportunities may lie in another country.  Demographers predict the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050.  That’s 34 percent more people to feed.  Because of our diversity and production capacity, Michigan can certainly play a role in meeting those needs.

To remain competitive and expand business operations, I would encourage our food and agriculture businesses to take a look at their export potential. Through exporting, companies can reduce dependence on existing domestic markets, offset slow sales due to economic changes, consumer demands, and seasonal fluctuations.

If companies are interested in beginning to export, but they are nervous or just don’t know where to start, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) International Marketing Program can help. Our goal is to assist Michigan’s food, agriculture and land-based industries to expand their customer base and open new business opportunities.

According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, there were 17,000 agricultural export-related jobs in Michigan in 2011. Michigan food and agriculture exports generated $2.33 billion in economic activity in 2011 — a good first step as we aim to increase agricultural exports to $3.5 billion by 2015. These figures are proof positive that food and agriculture exports are helping grow the state’s second largest economic sector and giving Michigan a stronger foothold in the global marketplace.

The department assists Michigan producers and processors in the development of trade opportunities for new markets or expanding their existing markets. The Michigan agriculture staff organizes and implements activities such as export seminars, buyers missions, trade missions, and Michigan Pavilions at selected domestic and international trade shows to showcase Michigan-based companies in the global economy.

Additionally, through the work of our Pesticide and Plant Pest Management (PPPM) Division, MDARD helps facilitate the export of nursery stock, fruits, vegetables, grains, logs, lumber, and other plants and plant products.  PPPM inspects these commodities and certifies they are free of plant pests that could adversely affect the agriculture and environment of the importing country.  In doing so, PPPM plays a crucial role in expediting international trade by our producers and shippers, promoting the reputation of Michigan products with importers, and building trusting relationships with the governments of those countries.

Additional assistance is provided through consulting services to food and agriculture firms such as market research, trade leads, advice on export pricing, order processing, determining required documentation, international market development policy issues, and identifying and overcoming barriers to market access.

Adams is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.