Nebraska’s farmers have a reputation as some of the most skilled and diverse in the country – and that reputation is spreading around the globe.
The state’s agricultural industry increasingly feeds the world as annual exports have grown to $7 billion, which results in a total economic impact to the state’s economy of $9.3 billion. The state’s top exports are corn and soybeans, with these feed grains and related products making up about one-third of Nebraska’s ag exports, and livestock products forming another significant component of exports.
“Nebraska is a local producer, but a world provider,” says Stan Garbacz, agricultural trade representative for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “Whether it’s dry beans, pork and beef, popcorn or further processed agricultural products, we produce the best in the market.”
Garbacz is responsible for finding new markets for Nebraska’s products and expanding access and demand in existing markets. Even though the world is increasingly digitally connected, Garbacz says building relationships with international customers is more important than anything else.
“We work to find the right people to talk with, the ones who make the decisions, and then we show them our products and tell them our story and encourage them to visit Nebraska to learn first-hand more about our products and our companies. That’s what works for us,” Garbacz says.
An example that demonstrates the value of building those relationships is when officials from Ghana visited the state to learn about high-quality beef in December 2013. Garbacz says the Ghana group became interested in Nebraska after they received a recommendation from another importer of Nebraska beef, a restaurant chain in the United Kingdom. Customer-to-customer recommendations such as these have a great deal of influence in the global marketplace, Garbacz says.
Ghana’s interest in high-end beef is an indication of where the growth markets are, says Creighton University Economist Ernie Goss. “These emerging markets in less developed nations offer the most opportunity, and Nebraska has been particularly effective in generating economic growth via ag exports, especially when compared to our neighboring states,” Goss says.
One reason for that effectiveness is Nebraska’s innovative approach in finding solutions to export challenges. A notable example came from issues Nebraska had in exporting its dry edible beans. Nebraska is the nation’s third-largest producer of dry edible beans,which includes pinto, Great Northern and black beans, and the world’s appetite for them is growing, but Garbacz says five years ago the market was on the verge of collapse. China was producing such large quantities of dry edible beans that it couldn’t consume them all domestically and flooded some of Nebraska’s traditional markets.
They found an answer in getting China to better utilize their dry edible beans in order to build demand even more. To achieve that goal, University of Nebraska researchers demonstrated to major Chinese instant noodle companies that adding dry edible beans to popular packaged noodle dishes could improve nutrition at a very low cost. The result has been that China is consuming much more of its own dry edible beans domestically and importing greater amounts from Nebraska.
Courtney Schuler, business development manager for Stateline Producers Cooperative located in western Nebraska, knows about the importance of exporting dry edible beans. Stateline, a cooperative with 350 growers, markets and exports pinto beans to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Angola; Great Northern beans to France, Algeria and Turkey; and yellow field peas to Asia and Latin America. In mid- December 2013, Schuler traveled to Central America for a trade mission to convey to importers that Nebraska producers can provide a consistent, safe, high-quality product. “That’s really our best selling point,” she says.
While the Nebraska Department of Agriculture is busy developing markets and growing demand for its agricultural products, it also oversees programs that ensure strict international regulations are being met. NDA’s Entomology Program works with Nebraska’s exporters to help them meet the import requirements of foreign countries.
One of the program’s chief functions is to issue federal phytosanitary certificates for plants and plant products, which state that the products meet the destination country’s quality requirements.
“Exporting is like an intricate puzzle,” says Julie Van Meter, NDA entomology program director. “Every country can have different requirements. Shipping corn grain to France is different than shipping the same product to Mexico or South Africa. And wheat grain going to France has different requirements than the corn grain.”
NDA conducts inspections across the state and keeps producers informed of the ever-changing international landscape regarding exports. “A lot of it is building relationships with exporters,” Van Meter says. “We’ve worked with the same companies for years, building trust with those firms. They know whom to call when issues arise, and they know we will be responsive.”
By producing only the highest quality products and helping exporters meet their requirements, Nebraska has built an international reputation centered on trust.
“When someone sees a Nebraska certification, there is a high confidence in the product,” Van Meter says. “When we talk to people who understand agriculture, and they find out we’re from Nebraska, they know they can trust the quality of our products.”