The Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently reported that the state's agricultural exports rose 22 percent in 2010, outpacing the nation in growth and hitting the $5 billion mark for the second time since 2008.
The increase equates to more than $900 million from the 2009 total of $4.1 billion, with the top export commodities - soybeans, corn, wheat, red meat, dairy and poultry - accounting for 90 percent of Minnesota's total agricultural exports.
"We have been working really hard in the agricultural industry with the foreign markets, buyers and officials," MDA economist Su Ye said. "We have been promoting Minnesota and its quality agricultural products, and the efforts have paid off."
MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson estimates that one-third of Minnesota's total agriculture production is exported. Agriculture is the state's second-largest exporting sector.
"These exports have a huge impact on our state's economic health," Frederickson said in a news release. "That's why it's important to continue our focus on maintaining and building export markets in the U.S. and overseas."
Ye said that in the past 30 years, and especially the last 10, China's wealth and ability to purchase has grown. Currently, China is the largest consumer of Minnesota's top agricultural export commodity - soybeans.
"They now have an open market for goods and services in China," Ye said. "There are more private enterprises and that plays a role in their economic growth."
From 2009 to 2010, soybean exports went up 46 percent, totaling $2.2 billion. Corn and corn product ($1.1 billion) rose nine percent.
Live animals and meat ($542 million) remained steady, while wheat and wheat products ($376 million) were up 4 percent. Feeds and fodder ($170 million) recorded an increase of 20 percent. Exports of dairy products ($153 million) grew by 38 percent, while poultry products ($105 million) were up 3 percent.
More than 40,000 jobs are supported either directly or indirectly by Minnesota agricultural exports, including 8,000 attributed to the Chinese market.
"The agricultural industry is the leader in job creation, in our ability to export," Ye said. "When you look at the population over there and the demand for food, especially a higher quality food, that's the driver and where the market grows. The Chinese market for soybeans grew almost 50 percent in one year, which is remarkable."
Japan, which suffered a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami in March, is the state's biggest corn buyer. A large portion of Minnesota's soybean exports are also distributed to Japan.
"We know Japan has clearly suffered and they need our industry to feed them," Ye said. "It will take them awhile to recover, especially with the contamination and radiation in certain regions, so we have to be ready to pick up the demand that is not met by their domestic production."
Ye pointed out that the worst-affected areas in Japan were their agricultural regions and that crop and livestock testing has to be done to ensure safety.
"All the local products are being tested," Ye said. "Some are not passing and aren't allowed to be consumed. Japan is one of the countries that takes food safety seriously."
The upward trend has continued into 2011. According to Minnesota Quarterly Export statistics, state exports of cereals, mainly corn, to Japan were up 235 percent to $48 million, while soybean exports were up 132 percent to $36 million for the first quarter of 2011.
Mexico, Canada, Korea and Taiwan are also top export markets for Minnesota agriculture. First quarter statistics show that meat products were up 111 percent, with a high demand from South Korea for frozen meat, mostly beef and pork. Those figures grew by 563 percent, or $32 million.
"It's very impressive," Ye said. "And, I believe the trend will continue. At every opportunity, we'll certainly promote Minnesota. This state is a bright spot."