colorado exports cows

Cattle graze in Boulder, Colorado. Photo by FFM staff

For many Colorado farmers, ranchers and food companies, the opportunity to sell products internationally can make a significant impact on their bottom line. Currently, Mexico and Canada are top export markets, accounting for about half of Colorado’s food and agriculture exports; however, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has helped connect the industry with numerous business partners worldwide. Such recent initiatives include trade development missions to Cuba, a “Colorado Pavilion” at trade shows in Singapore and London, and hosting buyers from Japan.

As one of CDA’s experts in international trade, Tom Lipetzky, director of marketing programs and strategic initiatives, has traveled to about 50 countries and nearly every U.S. state. The experience has provided invaluable insights into different business practices and cultures, and has ultimately been an asset for CDA in promoting local ag and food products. With his help, and the help of his colleagues John Addison and Ashley Warsh, these exports are hitting global markets primed for success.

Beef Specialities Are Big in Export Sales

Access to international markets has provided Colorado’s large beef processing industry an opportunity to sell products that are not in high demand in the U.S. Distinctive products such as beef tongues and livers alone add up to about $20 million in export sales.

colorado exports

“We often just think of exporting beef, but hides and skins exports totaled more than $177 million in 2017. Most of the hides and skins end up as bags or purses, jackets, furniture, and other leather goods manufactured in China and exported to countries around the world, including the U.S.,” says Lipetzky. China imported $110 million in hides and skins in 2017. “As beef is Colorado’s No. 1 export, expanded global market access for beef is key to the continued growth of Colorado beef exports.”

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Another uncommon export, particularly among consumers, is millet. Proso millet is primarily used as bird feed; however, this whole grain holds potential for niche food markets due to its gluten-free composition. Colorado is the No. 1 producer of millet in the U.S., and millet exports brought in more than $20 million in 2017 with significant amounts being sold to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Despite flying under the radar in the past, Colorado craft beer has been gaining recognition both nationally and abroad leading to dynamic export growth. “Beer exports were nearly $48 million in 2017, up from about $30 million in 2015 and 2016. Some of this growth is coming from our rapidly expanding craft brewers,” says Lipetzky.

Lastly, Colorado is also often underreported as a significant exporter of fresh potatoes to Mexico due to the nature of these sales to distributors (i.e. credit goes to Texas or California). In fact, Lipetzky confirms, “Colorado is the No. 1 supplier of U.S. fresh potatoes to Mexico, regularly accounting for more than 50 percent of U.S. fresh potato exports to Mexico. We estimate Colorado shipments to Mexico in 2017 totaled $21.8 million,” he says, making these high-quality spuds another important contributor to economic growth.

colorado exports

Exporter of the Year Award

This past year, CDA recognized two organizations that had been instrumental in promoting their industries internationally with Exporter of the Year awards. The Colorado Beef Council was recognized in the New to Exporting category and the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (CPAC) in the Experienced Exporter category.

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CPAC has demonstrated their commitment to growing exports by bringing reverse trade missions from Mexico and Central America into the San Luis Valley to showcase the crop and skilled shippers. CPAC Executive Director Jim Ehrlich finds that “it makes a big difference when potential buyers can see the crop and how it is grown in person.”

From grading standards to the inspection process to acquiring the necessary phytosanitary certificate, Ehrlich advises new exporters to understand the risks involved and know where to go for help. He adds, “We are very thankful that we have the support of the CDA’s Market Division. We could never do this work without their superior expertise.”