With an innovative and resourceful spirit, North Dakota farmers are determined to feed the nation – and the world. Taking advantage of the state’s natural landscape and climate, producers have found success producing over 50 different agricultural commodities commercially, attracting interest from overseas markets.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), North Dakota’s ag exports (tracked sales, not bulk sales) totaled $4.5 billion in 2014 with dry beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, food-grade soybeans and flax making the largest sales.
The state also ranks second nationwide in whole soybean exports.
Overall, the state ranks eighth in ag exports nationally but “No. 1 in U.S. production of wheat, dry edible beans, durum, barley, dry edible peas, canola, flaxseed and honey,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says.
Topping these accolades, however, is the fact that North Dakota has significantly expanded its export footprint over the years and shows no signs of slowing down.
“About 10 years ago, we were exporting to 63 countries. As of 2015, we’re exporting to 83 countries. Every market we pick up makes a difference, providing economic and food security. We don’t walk in to make a sale and leave. It’s a two-way street and there are ways we all benefit. We want to build and keep relationships.”
Ag Exports: Destinations and End-use
North Dakota’s reputation for high-quality food products is no secret.
“If someone in the world is looking at buying pulse crops from the U.S., there’s a high probability it’s coming from North Dakota,” confirms Dean Gorder, executive director, North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO). The same goes for niche commodities like canola and sunflower. “Or if you’re eating bean sprouts in Korea, chances are they originated in North Dakota.”
Korea is also a huge market for buckwheat where the hulls are used to make pillows. Meanwhile, local soybean exports are supporting the production of natto, a fermented soy dish from Japan, as well as soy milk and tofu across Asian markets. Ag machinery is headed to China, and cutting-edge technology like unmanned aerial vehicles and systems for precision agriculture is piquing interest in Norway, Sweden and Finland.
As the International Year of Pulses continues, Gorder has noticed rising demand for pinto, navy, black turtle, and cranberry beans in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Additionally, while countries like Egypt, Angola and Colombia have been traditionally high in pulse sales, the Philippines has recently reached out to NDTO to meet growing consumer demand.
North Dakota’s First India Trade Mission
Led by Goehring in February 2016, the state’s first trade mission to India was deemed a success by producers in attendance like SB&B Foods, a family-owned agribusiness exporting food grade crops for 27 years. Presently, SB&B’s largest volume of exports is food-grade soybeans shipping to 15 different countries.
The turnout of interested Indian manufacturers not only doubled expectations, but, “SB&B, along with other North Dakota soybean suppliers, will be shipping five containers of soybeans into India that can be distributed throughout the country as samples. This is the very first export of U.S. soybeans to India. It’s historic,” says Bob Sinner, president, owner and partner of SB&B Foods.
As of 2014, India was North Dakota’s eighth largest export market with exports valued at $35 million in 2014 – a 20 percent increase over 2013. With 1.3 billion people and the largest GDP growth in Asia, future trade agreements hold immeasurable potential for the agriculture industry.
Future Trade Outlook
After a trade mission to Cuba in late 2015, North Dakota is prepared to meet many of the country’s import needs, including wheat and dry beans.
“If they are going to do business in the U.S., they’re coming to North Dakota because we are the biggest producer of these products,” says Goehring. “The goal is not to replace food in their food system, but to enhance their food system with North Dakota products and technology.”
In the coming years, thanks to the state’s pro-trade, export-focused infrastructure, the agro-industry can count on exponential trade growth.
For Goehring, the plan is simple: “Ninety-six percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of buying power in the world exists outside U.S. borders.”
And where you find agricultural trade growth, that’s where you’ll find North Dakota.