Many economists and agriculture experts believe the United States is on the threshold of a new era in world trade, and because this country is so adept at growing food and fiber, some of the best things we have to sell are agricultural products.
Oregon is a good example of a state that has become an agricultural merchant to the world. Oregon is so big (one of the largest states in the nation, in geographic terms), grows so much food and has so small a population (only about 2.4 million) that 85 percent of its food and fiber production is exported. About 40 percent of its exports go overseas.In the past 20 years, farmers and ranchers and agri-business leaders in Oregon have formed nearly two dozen commodity commissions - in addition to Oregon's cattlemen, wool growers and other farm associations - into the Agri-Business Council of Oregon to boost and sell the state's farm products.
Among the state's many agricultural commissions, which collect money from farmers and use it for research and sales promotion, are those representing producers of wheat, processed vegetables, onions, sheep, salmon, mint, hops for beer-making, dairy products, beef, crab, flounder and other fish, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, filbert nuts, rye grass, orchard grass, fescue grass, pears, chickens, potatoes, prunes, plums, and cherries.
The Oregon Legislature believes in its farmers and has funded its Department of Agriculture to the extent that the department's Agriculture Development and Marketing Division has 17 employees.
The purpose, according to Patrick Shannon, executive vice president of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon, is to expand the state's farm export markets so Oregon's agricultural industries can grow. "We are interested in boosting sales overseas and domestically, too," he said.
During August, Oregon is promoting its farm products in Utah and Idaho under the banner of "Savor the Flavors of Oregon."
Shannon says Oregon is not trying to crowd out Utah brands in stores and groceries, but only to "create an increased awareness of the quality of Oregon products at the expense of national brands."
Oregon produces more than 180 different farm commodities and further refines a host of foods and fibers, producing value added products that mean more money to the state's farmers and businessmen while providing a great many more jobs for its citizens.
According to Richard Fritz, assistant director of agriculture for Oregon, who is in charge of agricultural marketing and development, 40 percent of the state's workers are employed in some form of agriculture, from working on one or more of the state's 32,000 farms to driving trucks, selling farm machinery and supplies, cutting meat or working in a supermarket.
The value of Oregon's agriculture is difficult to pin down. Shannon says its worth $7 billion to $10 billion annually. Fritz uses a more conservative figure and says Oregon's farm products are worth nearly $2 billion to farmers at their front gate. This figure can easily be multiplied to include transportation, further processing, retail sales and all the jobs that are associated with agricultural sales.
The $2 billion figure does not include the state's fishing industries or its forestry products.
How well has Oregon done selling its products abroad? Fritz said some of the state's customers are Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the Middle East including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Canada, Indonesia, Melanesia, the Philippines, Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, India and Bangladesh.
Oregon maintains sales offices in several overseas locations, including Korea, Taiwan and Japan, and sends its state's farmers, farm business leaders, and state officials to foreign trade shows 14 or more times a year.
One of the most telling factors in the state's overseas sales strength is its ability to muster, practically overnight, trade shows in Oregon for visiting foreign dignitaries and commodity buyers.
"If we hear of a trade delegation from Japan, for instance, touring the U.S., we invite them to visit Oregon and we put on a show to sell our products," Fritz said.
Utah has recently started a marketing division within the Utah Department of Agriculture with a director, Bruce Richeson, and, presently, one part-time assistant. Richeson needs support from the state's agriculture community and the state's Department of Agriculture needs support from the Utah Legislature to boost this state's sale of farm products domestically and internationally.
Utah has neither the rainfall nor the number of farms that Oregon has, but it does have some of the best land in the country, the finest irrigation know how in the world, and some of the best farmers. There is great potential for Utah to join other states in this nation's future world trade movement.
The Utah Legislature needs only to see the potential that lies on the horizon and, like Oregon, begin to boost this state's farm community.