OGDEN — International trade plays a vital role in the prosperity of Utah agriculture, state and industry leaders noted Monday, and enhancing market access and ensuring a level playing field in world markets are vital to growing a key sector in the Beehive Sate's economy.
"It's about 15 percent of the state's economy," Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food LuAnn Adams said, noting that the agriculture sector contributes more than $21.2 billion in annual sales to the overall economy and employs hundreds of thousands of people with a combined yearly income of $3.5 billion across the state.
At an event marking Gov. Gary Herbert's declaration of Agricultural Trade and Awareness Day in Utah on Monday at Gibson Green Acres Dairy in Weber County, Adams said the industry involves not just farmers and ranchers, but scientists, processors, shippers, truckers and retailers.
She said international trade has become vital to Utah agriculture and its economy. Farmers and ranchers stressed the importance of keeping fair and open trade agreements in place to allow locals to be competitive.
"Having the ability to have international trade is very significant for us," Brent Tanner, of the Utah Cattlemen's Association, said. "Most of the population of our consumers lies outside of the United States."
Tanner noted that beef cattle is the largest segment of the state's agriculture industry, with 20 percent to 30 percent of cattle value impacted daily by international trade. He said many countries abroad use their animals in ways that are nontraditional to the U.S., making the international market even more appealing and potentially lucrative for local producers.
He said the greatest potential for growth resides in emerging countries that are trying to develop their economies.
"We look at China, for instance, they are a growing economy," Tanner said. "They've got money and they want beef products, and they're not producing (their own) beef, so they are reaching out for quality protein they haven't had in their diet."
He mentioned that beef products are also used to make cosmetics, tires and pharmaceuticals. Other animal-oriented industries are also trying to expand their reach into outside markets.
"A lot of our (product) ends up going out of state when it (is harvested)," said Sierra Nelson, executive director of the Utah Wool Growers Association. "We also export not only wool but lamb and mutton."
She noted that other products made from sheep include lanolin for hand lotion, shampoo and mascara. The Beehive State is also a partner with Idaho in developing its dairy industry, explained Utah Dairy Council board member Jennifer Clark.
Trying to introduce its products into emerging foreign markets will be key in keeping the industry strong in the years to come, she said.
"Dairy has a huge effect anywhere it has a presence," she said. "Through employing (people), through products that we buy and the businesses we supply, it's a really critical product."3 comments on this story
"It's 18 percent of the state's (gross domestic product)," Utah Farm Bureau Federation President Ron Gibson said. "Twenty-five percent of our dairy exports in the nation go to Mexico, so Mexico is a huge trading partner of ours. Canada is a huge trading partner, and we're trying to develop the Asian market."
He noted that 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside of the U.S., which means there is a tremendous opportunity for Utah’s farmers and ranchers to expand their reach and sell Utah agricultural food products to more consumers around the world.