If you don't toot your own horn, who will? That idiom applies to Nebraska crop and livestock commodities and those who produce them.
In the past several months, more and more Nebraska producers seem to be taking part in marketing their commodities by way of international trade missions, to countries like Turkey, Cuba, China, Taiwan, Japan and many others.
That's a good deal for the state's economy and agriculture alike, considering we export close to 30% of our grains and soybeans and 15% of our beef and pork products.
I remember in my early days at Nebraska Farmer a farmer who came to our office every month it seemed to speak with the editor at the time. He was always upset that certain checkoff board members were traveling overseas on what he considered "junkets" and in the process "wasting checkoff dollars."
He failed to see that market development is a crucial component of Nebraska agriculture and commodity checkoff programs. Checkoff board members as well as farmers on grower associations need to meet their foreign customers, whether their farmers, governments or third-party buyers, to learn how their commodities are processed and consumed. They need to know what their customers want in terms of grain quality and supply.
It's a competitive ag trade market out there, with other exporting countries desiring the same export destinations as our commodities.
"In a business that works with international customers, as we do in Nebraska agriculture, the importance of building direct relationships can't be overstated," says Stan Garbacz, ag trade representative at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. "Our customers appreciate making a personal connection with the people that do the actual work to raise the products they are buying. That direct relationship reinforces our message of quality and consistency in product. In addition, our farmers and ranchers benefit from traveling to other countries by experiencing firsthand the product need, use, handling, processing and distribution systems that the country is faced with. In most cases, that is a very eye-opening experience for our producers."
Nebraska fares well in the current trade environment, and Gov. Dave Heinemann, NDA and producers themselves have helped make it happen.
Nebraska's quality beef, for instance, is considered top-of-the line by consumers in regions like Japan, Korea and even the European Union, in spite of government roadblocks at times.
Here's a sampling of the trade mission announcements that have come across my desks involving trips abroad and so-called reverse trade missions where representatives of our overseas trade partners, including millers, processors, government leaders and farmers, come to the Nebraska to see how we raise and handle our commodities.
•Nebraska dry bean grower Cindi Allen of Ogallala this spring represented the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission on a USDA trade mission to Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey has become a major importer of dry beans, and Allen was there to learn about food needs and changing diets in that country.
•The U.S. Meat Export Federation is sponsor of a week-long mission to Japan that concluded July 13. Representatives of the Nebraska corn and beef industries were part of the group that helped MEF by promoting U.S. beef and had meetings with the U.S. Embassy staff, Japanese meat buyers and retailers. I had the opportunity two years ago to be a part of a similar mission, which also involved the gratifying experience of serving U.S. beef to survivors of the tsunami tragedy in northern Japan.
•A trade team representing Nigeria's largest milling and baking companies visited two Nebraska farms, grain elevators and UNL research labs earlier this summer. Nigeria is one of the world's largest importers of U.S. wheat.
•Last fall, a trade mission from the Philippines came to Nebraska, including the Gregg Fujan farm near Prague, to learn about U.S. soybean production and processing.
•Nebraska has had great success in Nebraska-sponsored missions to Cuba, missions that resulted in sales of U.S. commodities, including beef and dry beans.
•There have been plenty more examples of overseas market development over the years and many more to come.
Checkoff boards allocate large sums of money to U.S. trade organizations, including the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the U.S. Grains Council. Members of checkoff boards thus need to have the background and experience in how these organizations function and what they've accomplished in order to inform those who pay the checkoff fee that market development abroad is critical.